Holiday Cookies

You may remember that I Have the Coolest Brother. Period. Additionally, I know everyone thinks they have the best Mom in the world. But I really do!  😍

**Before I go further, if you know my Mom, please do NOT mention this blog post. I’m going to write a couple “Odes to Mom” and print them to give to her as a Christmas gift this year! Shhhhhh! 🤗**

Everyone who knows my Mom, knows that she is a kind, gentle and sweet soul. Those who are lucky enough to have been in a group or organization with her have benefited from her thoughtful, clever, creative side. A collector of cartoons and articles, she has accented many a church Circle lesson and choir rehearsal with a perfectly selected New Yorker one-framer — clipped long ago and saved, in case an occasion presented itself for use. Recently, while we enjoyed a snack together, she casually quoted one: “You know, the early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese!”

A lover of language, she weaves carefully-selected words and phrases into her conversation and writing. Often times we kids received witty poems with our birthday cards, or to provide cheer when we were blue. I remember learning the phrase “to gild the lily” when we were traveling together through the Arizona desert and I cleaned my windshield at a gas station with a squeegee, followed by dispensing the car’s wiper fluid and using my windshield wipers as we pulled away from the station. Before we all carried smart phones with their instant access to information, I used to call Mom with any of my questions: “Mom, what’s the difference between an accordion and a concertina?” I called her my “Mom-clopedia” and my “Mom-tionary.”

Endlessly supportive and enthusiastic, I was the lucky recipient of many a gift or lesson, after just the slightest indication of interest. I followed baseball with my father for a little while — and a subscription to Sports Illustrated appeared in my Christmas stocking that year! When I presented an ad for a Wilton cake decorating class, not only did she register me, but bought me a kit of decorating tips and all the introductory tools for success. Her support went well past gifts. When my brother took an interest in computing back in the early 80s, his birthday cake was decorated with the Apple logo that year! Our cakes were always cleverly decorated, many times incorporating puns. For my boat-loving, sport-fishing father whose standard response to the question what do you want for your birthday/Christmas was “A 20-foot Bertram,” I remember her decorating his cake with a toy boat with twenty tiny feet attached to its base. Her support wasn’t only demonstrated with gifts and creations, but also with her compassion. If I were sick, she’d smooth-back the hair from my forehead, with the soothing phrase “poor little lamb.” Beyond gifts, creations and compassion, her love is unconditional and deeply-felt by all of us. Qualifying her to be Best Mom Ever! (hover over the photos below to reveal their captions)

The irony is not lost on me … the classically trained chef … that the recipes I make that people enjoy the most … and are most-often requested … are the ones I inherited from my Mom. During this Christmas season, I thought I’d share my holiday favorites, starting with sweets. This is the first of at least two posts I’ll share with her recipes.

I am transcribing these exactly — points for the use of “blobs” in the directions below:

Applesauce Coffee Cake

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 3/4 t. salt
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups applesauce
  • cinnamon-sugar

Cream softened butter and sugar. Add eggs and stir well. Add baking powder and salt and stir well. Add flour and stir well. Dough will be very stiff and sticky and form a ball. Cut off 1/3 of the dough ball and set aside. Press remaining dough into a parchment-lined (or greased) 15x10x1″ jellyroll pan. Spread dough with applesauce and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Pinch-off pieces of remaining dough that you set aside, and drop evenly in blobs on top of applesauce until the dough is used up. Sprinkle again with cinnamon-sugar. Bake at 350F for 40-45 minutes. Let cool before cutting into squares. Freezes beautifully. Serve warm or room temperature. It’s even good warm with ice cream — rather like apple pie.

Notes from me: I serve this as a bar cookie, and I vary the fruit-sauce with whatever I have on-hand. These photos show nectarine and raspberry sauces, from fruits I picked this summer. I find that tart, not overly-sweet fruit sauces, such as those containing sour cherries or rhubarb, get rave reviews in these bar cookies. These actually get better over time, as they soften more each day.

Holiday Spice Cookies — like a glorified oatmeal-raisin cookie

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature & soft
  • 1-3/4 cups brown sugar

Stir together butter and sugar, until just combined — no need to whip air into the mixture.

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Add to butter-sugar mixture and stir to combine.

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups flour

Add oats and flour to butter-sugar-spice mixture and stir to combine.  Separate 2/3 of the mixture out into a parchment-paper-lined (or very well-greased) 9″x13″ baking pan, and press to create an even crust in bottom of pan.

Pour contents of one 1-lb 12oz jar of mincemeat (3 cups) over crust, and spread evenly. In the past I bought Cross & Blackwell brand mincemeat, but now I usually only find Nonesuch brand, which is equally good.

To remaining 1/3 of butter-sugar-spice mixture, add 1/2 cup toasted, chopped nuts (I use toasted pecan pieces).

Crumble the remaining 1/3 of the mixture evenly over the top of the mincemeat.  Press slightly into the fruit compote.

Bake for 1 hour. Allow to cool at least 30 minutes before cutting.

Yield: approximately 48 bars. These freeze beautifully, and can be thawed for about 30 seconds in the microwave, and would be very good, slightly heated, with vanilla ice cream on top.

Pecan Pie Bars  I like these so much more than a slice of pecan pie, which is too rich for me. This has a better ratio of filling to crust, in my opinion.

Cookie crust: Line a jelly-roll pan (15″x10″x1″-deep) pan with parchment paper — with generous overhang of paper around all 4 sides of pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 sticks frozen butter that has been grated on the large holes of a cheese grater
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine ingredients in a large bowl, and use pastry cutter, two knives, or mixer to blend until mixture resembles fine crumbs.

Press crumbs evenly and firmly into parchment paper-lined pan. Bake 12 minutes. Rotate pan 180 degrees for even baking, in case there are hot spots in your oven. Bake another 12 minutes or until golden brown.

While Cookie Crust is baking, make Filling:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups Karo® Light or Dark corn syrup
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2-1/2 cups toasted, chopped pecan pieces

Add ingredients in large mixing bowl and stir to combine.

  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Add to above, and stir to combine.

Pour Filling over baked Cookie Crust, and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 13 minutes. Rotate pan 180 degrees for even baking, in case there are hot spots in your oven —  and bake another 13 minutes, until filling is firm, lightly browned and even slightly domed in center.

Cool completely. Cut into squares. Yield: approximately 48 bars.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this mini-series which will be my favorite appetizer recipes of hers. ❤️

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Frittata for Twelve

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the inaugural gathering of our Cultural Supper Club, and mentioned that our next gathering would be for an English Sunday Lunch, with a walk afterward. Well, that didn’t quite materialize because it was a) way too hot to make a roast plus Yorkshire pudding and b) it rained, which ruined the idea of a walk. So we decided to keep the date, and get-together for Brunch. Which is neither supper nor representative of any one culture. But we missed each other, and we love to eat. So there you have it.

It was my turn to host, which I adore doing — especially now that we have space in our Rochester home. Prior to moving to Rochester, Mr. Batch and I lived in San Francisco and we each had shoe-box sized apartments — his was a 600 square foot one bedroom … mine, a 500 square foot studio. We both owned so little that it’s taken us almost 5 years to furnish our 1800 square foot home here! I set the table with the beautiful china that my BFF designed. And note the super-cool salt & pepper shaker set — a parting gift from Mr. Batch’s grad student who recently earned her PhD:

My contribution was freshly squeezed orange juice, to be enjoyed all on its own, or made into mimosas. I loved getting to use the small juice glasses from my childhood:

I put my electric juicer through the paces, and squeezed 1.5 bags (approx 12 pounds) of oranges, myself. I decided to go that route for optimal freshness, and as a cost-savings measure versus paying Wegmans to squeeze the oranges for me. 8 pound bags of oranges at Trader Joe’s cost $4. So all of that orange juice cost about $6 and 30 minutes of effort!

I put a small dish of herb-marinated mixed olives on the table, one filled with toasted almonds, and one filled with dilly beans I’d pickled last summer using yellow wax beans.  I anticipated those might pair nicely with the fatty, rich brunch foods to come!

My final contribution was a Frittata For Twelve (though we only had the four of us + three spouses), made with spinach, mushrooms, caramelized onions and shredded cheddar cheese (recipe below). I made enough filling to use in my personal “frittata” for the following two weeks. In other words, I incorporated half of this batch of filling into the Frittata For Twelve I served our Cultural Supper Club, then froze 1/4 to use another time, and then used the remaining 1/4 for my breakfasts that week. #nevergosmall

The other members of the group offered Sicilian Potato Cake:

A beautiful selection of fruits, nuts, cinnamon and yogurt (and she used those same beautiful crystal & silver serving pieces you may remember reading about the last time we met!)

And a pound and a half of bacon for our group! 🙂 🙂 🙂

It made for a lovely plate of delicious goodness:

Followed by a delectable bread pudding with whisky sauce and whipped cream!

Like last time, we sat around the table and talked and laughed for hours — what a delight! Before parting ways, we asked the spouses to take our picture:

We’re all traveling at different times throughout the Summer, but we’ll be back together next Fall with our next Cultural Supper Club! See the pictures below, for what Mr. Batch and I have been doing for activities, to try to burn-off the calories from all of this consumption!

But first! How to make a Frittata For Twelve:

This version has spinach, mushroom, caramelized onion and shredded cheddar cheese — you could customize this however you would like. Additionally, scale this for the number of people you are serving — you could certainly halve this, or make only a quarter-batch.

  • One 16-oz bag frozen, chopped spinach

Thaw and squeeze excess water from spinach.

  • One 10-oz container of white button mushrooms + One 10-oz container of brown crimini mushrooms or baby ‘bellas

Clean mushrooms, slice, and sauté with olive oil, salt & pepper and two cloves of garlic, minced. Add to spinach in bowl and stir to combine. Wipe sauté pan with a paper towel – no need to clean it thoroughly before caramelizing the onion.

  • 1 large yellow onion, small-diced

Cook on low heat with olive oil, salt & pepper and two cloves of garlic, minced. Stir frequently, as the onions cook slowly and naturally caramelize and brown. Add to bowl with spinach and mushrooms and stir to combine. Set bowl aside to allow all contents to cool. Completely clean sauté pan if this is the one you will be using to make Frittata for Twelve.

  • 3/4 pound sharp cheddar cheese — grate.

Once spinach, mushroom, onion mixture is cool, add cheese and stir to combine. Don’t add when other ingredients are still warm, as cheese will melt and clump.

*Everything can be done ahead at this point and held in refrigerator. I set-aside 1/2 of this mixture to serve in our Brunch Frittata. Then froze 1/4 of the mixture for future use. And set-aside 1/4 of the mixture for my own “frittata” breakfasts for the week ahead.

When I was thirty minutes ahead of my serving time, I preheated the oven to 350F

  • Then cracked 12 eggs into a big mixing bowl and whisked them with 1/3 cup of Britta-filtered water (or you could use milk), 1 teaspoon salt and about 12 grinds of freshly cracked black pepper. I whisked all of these ingredients to thoroughly combine them.
  • Stir-in the 1/2 of the spinach-mushroom-caramelized-onion-shredded cheddar cheese you’ve set aside.

I heated my non-stick, oven-proof (in other words, completely metal … no plastic) large sauté pan and added 1 Tablespoon of butter and 1 teaspoon olive oil and swirled the butter and oil together to coat the bottom of the sauté pan.

I poured the egg-spinach-mushroom-caramelized-onion-shredded-cheddar-cheese into my hot, greased sauté pan and used a heat-proof rubber spatula to stir the ingredients, almost as if I were making scrambled eggs. I stirred the mixture frequently, scraping the bottom of the pan to bring the cooked egg to the surface and distribute the still-liquid-egg … and did this for about 5 minutes.

Once I noticed that the edges were starting to set and pulling away from the pan, I stopped stirring and put the pan in the oven. I baked the Frittata for Twelve for about 15-20 minutes until the egg-mixture was completely set. No jiggling, no liquid.

I let the Frittata for Twelve rest, out of the oven, for about 5 minutes. Then inverted a plate on top of the pan, and flipped the contents of the pan onto the plate. Then sliced into quarters, and each quarter into thirds. Oila! Frittata for Twelve!

Mr. Batch & I enjoyed all of the leftovers from the Brunch for a couple days. And I have loved having the frittata-filling for later in the week, and in the freezer for future weeks! As the tagline says, “Make a lot. Freeze some. Now go play!” Here’s what we’ve been doing to play:

Mr. Batch & I recently biked 25 miles for the local Tour de Cure ride, to raise money for diabetes research. We joined Team BioRad, who very kindly donated $75 per rider on their teams, nationwide! We rode along the shore of Lake Ontario and then through the fruit orchards and farms outside of Rochester. Along the way, we met several riders and supporters who have Type 1 & Type 2 diabetes. Very moving to hear their stories, lending a greater understanding of the impact of the ride and monies raised.

And it is finally Summer here! This week, I picked 15 pounds of strawberries! I baked with some of them (recipe for Strawberry Lemonade Cake forthcoming), we devoured many of them fresh, and I froze about half for future baking/smoothies/enjoyment!

 

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Mr. Batch and the Batch Bitch Do the ‘Burgh

Mr. Batch and I love to take road trips, and we adore exploring every nook and cranny of our destination — and stopping to sightsee, en route to our destination and back! We didn’t get away for Spring Break this year, but we made up for it with a drive to Pittsburgh for the long Memorial Day Weekend. Here’s what we enjoyed:

Day 1:  We drove through the Southern Tier of New York and then through the Allegheny National Forest to get to Pittsburgh.  Shortly after crossing the border into Pennsylvania, we came to the Drake Well and Museum — which chronicles the birth and development of the petroleum industry. I had no idea that Western PA was home to the first drilling for oil **in the world.** The first oil drill also acted as a pump, and operated at SIX horse-power, which is half of the power of a modern riding lawn mower! They struck oil at 69.5 feet!

Onward we drove until we got to the ‘Burgh and checked in to our AirBnB. We had the entire third floor of this lovely Colonial Revival house, located in the Friendship neighborhood, just steps from Shadyside.  This is the link to the rental — we highly recommend you consider staying there when you visit!

As soon as we were unloaded and settled in our digs, we headed to The Andy Warhol Museum. Seven floors showcase the impressive breadth of Andy Warhol’s work, making it the largest museum in North America devoted to a single artist. Rather than posting any iconic photos of Andy Warhol and his pop art, I thought I’d share a young picture of Warhol, just out of art school and having moved to New York City (below). And a photo of Mr. Batch in the Silver Clouds exhibit.

Filled with inspiration, we departed the museum and decided to walk along the North Shore of the Allegheny River to admire the skyline, as we made our way to the original Primanti Brothers restaurant in the Strip District for a Pittsburgh Sandwich (the fries and slaw are IN the sandwich). We love their mission: serve high quality food to industrious people who appreciate a good value.

We fell into bed that evening, exhausted from our travels and having walked 4.5 miles!

Day 2:

We’re early birds, so we decided to get out the door and walk the three miles back to the Strip District for breakfast, and to peruse the many shops and markets, as seen in the photos below. There’s lots of Pittsburgh pride in “Stillers” country (how Steelers is pronounced with a Pittsburgh accent).  S & D Polish Deli was a visual feast (first two pictures below) but we decided to dine at Enrico Biscotti Bakery & Cafe (last 4 pictures below).

Stuffed from our biscuits & gravy and green eggs & ham breakfast, we waddled a mile to the Senator John Heinz History Center, a very well-laid-out and enjoyable journey through the history of Western Pennsylvania. We loved learning about the coal mines & steel mills and other innovations from the area, demonstrated in part from the collection of personal historical photographs in the #Pixburgh exhibit. Heinz is from Pittsburgh! And the exhibit of words pronounced with the Pittsburgh accent was one of our favorites! “Gum bands” (rubber bands), “jian-neegle” (Giant Eagle grocery store), “yinz” (you-uhns / you-all) and more!

We continued our walk through the city to our next destination: the SouthSide to meet our Molly’s Trolley “Culture to Ketchup” Tour. This was not only a fantastic break to sit down after all of that walking while being driven around the city to see the sights, but the tour was informative and enjoyable! Highly recommend this tour, which concludes with a ride up Mt. Washington on the Duquesne Incline. The two middle pictures below are taken from the observation deck on Mt. Washington, overlooking the “Stillers” stadium, where they wave the “Terrible Towel.” The last shot below is at the base of the Duquesne Incline after we de-boarded our car.

Slightly rejuvenated, we decided to walk through the South Side neighborhood after our tour. We rewarded ourselves with local beers at Urban Tap. Then took an Uber to dinner —  but didn’t get a self-driving car. Pittsburgh is the test-market for Uber’s self-driving car fleet! We enjoyed traditional Polish food for dinner at the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern – pierogis, tolabki, haluski & kluski! YUM!

We walked back to our AirBnB, concluding the day with 7.5 miles walked!

Day 3:

Fully rested, we began our day by walking to Carnegie Melon University’s campus, passing through the Shadyside neighborhood for coffee and breakfast along the way. The pictures below show some cool artwork on CMU’s campus; and buildings on CMU’s campus with buildings from Pitt’s campus in the background.

Very close-by to CMU is the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, which begged a visit from us. What an enjoyable experience! Made even more dazzling with the exhibit of Jason Gamrath glass interspersed among the gardens!

Traveling onward, we walked to Pitt’s campus next, for a stop at the Cathedral of Learning. On the first and third floors, there are 30 Nationality Rooms (28 of which are used for classrooms), designed by members of the Pittsburgh community in the styles of different nations and ethnic groups. The pictures below show, in clockwise order,  the Cathedral of Learning, the massive gothic Commons Room, the Armenian Room interior, the door to the Armenian Room, the Switzerland Room and the India Room:

All that walking and sightseeing merited hot dogs from The Original Hot Dog Shop — or “O’s” to yintz! 🙂

 

We’re starting to show our age a bit, and had to have a quick siesta after all that walking! Upon awakening, we headed back to the North Side to see the famed City of Asylum, “a grass-roots organization that provides exiled writers from around the world with housing — and turns those formerly derelict homes into giant works of art.”

While in the area, we stumbled upon Randyland, Pittsburgh’s Most Colorful Landmark! I hope you’ll visit the website and read the story of Randy Gilson – especially the “Meet Randy” page. I like how the page concludes: “When you do more for others, you find that you do more for yourself.  And that’s the story of Randyland.”

Our sightseeing finished for the day at Bicycle Heaven, the world’s largest bike museum, repair shop and parts store. They have close to 4,000 bicycles — vintage to new — under one roof. I especially liked the ones with holders for gear, pictured below: baseball bat, ball & glove and cowboy hat & gun holsters! Pee Wee Herman’s bike is there, and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure plays 24/7 in the background!

The day ended with a delicious Spanish dinner at Pallantia Restaurant in Shadyside. Sangria and rosé wine, ibéricos, yellow tomato gazpacho, potato omelet, mushrooms and shrimp … yum, yum, yum!!! My FitBit revealed that we had walked another 7.5 miles that day!

Day 4:

Time to return to Raaaaah-chester, so we did some sightseeing along the way home. We stopped in Braddock, PA which is home to one of Andrew Carnegie’s original steel mills, still in operation:

And a stop in Ross Township, PA where the first Big Mac sandwich was introduced, and the McDonald’s there houses a museum. We had recently watched the movie “The Founder,” the story of Ray Kroc’s creation of the McDonald’s fast food chain (highly recommend the movie, by the way), so had a particular interest in stopping here:

While stopped in Ross Township, we stumbled upon a Memorial Day Parade! It was very moving to watch the veterans drive by, and even more so to see the cars honoring the families of soldiers who had died, in service:

We drove through Harmony, PA to learn about the Harmony Society — alas, nothing was open. Then once over the New York State border, we stopped in Chautauqua to investigate a future trip(s). The pictures below are from the Athenaeum Hotel on the Chautauqua grounds — the first hotel in the world to have electric lights, installed by Thomas Edison’s daughter!

Then home to Raaaah-chester. We walked just 3.0 miles this last day. The trip kick-started our fitness program and we’ve been active almost daily since returning home. Yay!

We highly recommend the ‘Burgh! More to do than time! Great trip! Cool city! We hope Rochester follows suit with its renaissance!

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Tofu Chile Verde

When I left the restaurant industry and chef profession, I was fortunate enough to score a job with a British manufacturer of china dinnerware, made exclusively for  use in hotels, restaurants and catering companies. I had worked with the product when I was a pastry chef in a private dining club, and found it to be as wonderful as it advertised: “Tough as steel, but impressively lightweight.” Their beautiful patterns and innovative shapes and colors made the product a delight to work with, as it truly enhanced the dining experience and contributed to the trend in “eater-tainment.” My primary job was to plan their tradeshows — a natural extension of the skills I had honed as a chef planning banquets. I got to travel to the biggest shows to help set-up the displays and help staff the booth, working side-by-side with the passionate and super-fun salesforce. A unique opportunity to incorporate my background in speech communications as well as provide testimony, since I’d used the product when I was a chef.

During the first tradeshow I attended, I met one of the company pattern-designers, who had traveled from the UK for the show, and who would soon be relocating to the US headquarters where I worked. There was an instant connection with us. In no time, we were talking and laughing and sharing stories as if we’d known each other for years. Our friendship only got stronger once she moved to the states. I can’t begin to recount how much fun we had sharing a tiny office, and traveling to those tradeshows together. We whooped it up and giggled our way through Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco, sharing hotel rooms in each of the cities, and staying up till all hours like kids at a slumber party. (Hover over images below to reveal captions)

That was back in 1999 and here we are, still BFFs after almost 20 years. There truly are few words to convey how fortunate I feel to have met her! We’ve been there for each other through dating and then weddings, career-changes, moves, welcoming her munchkins into the world, stressors and celebrations and the mundane … each chapter of life only strengthens our friendship and brings us closer. What hurts her hurts me and vice versa. Only she can make me laugh when I don’t even want to smile — she brings out the best in me. We aggressively defend each other and believe in each other, and we each think the other deserves the world. There has never been any jealousy between us, and only complete honesty. She is the sister of my soul, and a trusted caretaker of my heart. Befriending her is far and away one of the best things that has ever happened in my life!

Our paths have criss-crossed North America in a surprisingly parallel fashion, and she lives just two hours and one border-crossing away from Rochester now. We don’t see each other as often as we’d like, but I recently got to see her for a dinner, and a nonstoptalkandlaughfest that lasted way into the wee morning hours, just like old times. Oh! The comfort of being able to be transparent with your bestie! And the joy of getting to see her munchkins grow up! And to hang with her ultra-cool hubby!

I mention all of this not only to laud her amazingness and my good fortune to have her as my soul-sistuh. But also because we hosted a dinner party for 6 people the night after my return! One of the  guests was someone I was REALLY trying to impress — a colleague of Mr. Batch’s from his postdoc days, who is now a professor at Harvard!!!

How did I do this, you ask? And especially when I needed to find a menu suitable for 5 carnivores and a vegetarian?!?! Well, here we go:

The day before departing town, I did my grocery shopping. I froze my tofu slices (see recipe below). I also made Loaded Cornbread Muffins and froze them.

Before departing town, I thawed the tofu slices, first thing. Then cubed the pork for the Pork Chile Verde, and added the dry rub. Once the tofu slices were thawed, I squeezed the excess water from them, and then brushed them with olive oil and added the dry rub.

🎉   🥂 Then, I went out of town and PLAYED WITH MY BFF!!!!!!  💃 😎

Upon returning to town the next day, I finished making the Pork Chile Verde, and made the Tofu Chile Verde (recipe below). Both of these taste better the day after they’re made, so it behooves them to make them the day before. (Mr. Batch always says to me “I know how you like the behooving!” 🙂 ) Last, I made a batch of Roasted Sweet Potatoes.

The day of the party: I’m an early bird, and made a batch of Lemon Souffle Pudding cakes before work. But you could also make these the day before, if you are not a morning person! I thawed the Loaded Cornbread Muffins. Then, I set the table, and tidied-up the guest bathroom and went to work.

That evening, an hour before the guests arrived, I started reheating the Pork Chile Verde and Tofu Chile Verde (recipe below) on very low on the stovetop. I put my appetizers out: brie & crackers; a bowl of pistachios; a bowl of dried apricots & dates; and hummus and plantain chips. I pulled some butter and put it on the dining room table on a pretty plate, and lit the votives. Once my guests arrived, I popped the Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Loaded Cornbread Muffins into a very low oven.

Once we’d finished visiting over appetizers, I tossed salad greens with some Red Wine Vinaigrette that I always have on-hand in the fridge, and put the salad on the table for guests to serve themselves. Then, put the Loaded Cornbread Muffins into a cloth-lined basket on the table, to be passed. And finally, plated the Pork Chile Verde and Tofu Chile Verde over Roasted Sweet Potatoes, (with a dollop of sour cream for those who wanted it) and served all of that with a lovely Rioja red wine.

Following dinner, I passed my Lemon Souffle Pudding cakes, topped with a sprig of mint and some candied orange zest. And we continued to talk and laugh until the votives burned through all of their wax and it was time to go home.

I can’t recommend this dinner party menu enough. Much can be done in advance, which allows you to have fun with your guests. And the food only gets better while it warms lightly on the stove and in the oven! Unlike my first dinner party experience where everything got bone-dry and over-cooked! 🙂 🙂 🙂

Tofu Chile Verde – serves 4

Many years ago, a friend gave me the book Perfect Pairings by Evan Goldstein and his wife Joyce Goldstein.  She brought my attention to the recipe for Pork Chile Verde and I am ever-grateful that she did.  I have now adapted the recipe to make Tofu Chile Verde, for you vegetarians and vegans out there!

  • 1 pound extra firm tofu, sliced into four thick slabs

Line a baking pan with parchment, add thick slices of tofu, and then freeze for at least 1 hour.  Yes — you read that correctly — freeze.

While tofu slices freeze, make dry-rub:

  • 1 teaspoons oregano
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (you can omit these for anyone sensitive to spicy-heat)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a small bowl, combine the spices and set aside.

Once each slice is completely frozen, pull pan and allow to thaw completely — about 1 hour.

Move tofu slices to clean kitchen towel (I find that a thin “tea-towel” works best). Working with one slice at a time, completely cover with dry section of towel, and press firmly on tofu to squeeze-out water. Once excess water has been removed, move tofu slices to a very lightly-oiled baking pan.

Continue until all slices have been pressed and excess water has been removed.

Brush each slice with a little olive oil or other preferred oil, then season with salt and pepper and sprinkle each side with a pinch of the dry rub. Return to very lightly-oiled baking pan, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1-2 hours, or up to 48 hours.

Make Chile Verde Sauce

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 4-ounce can diced roasted green chiles
  • Half of a 14-ounce can plum or fire-roasted tomatoes (freeze the other half to make vegetable broth or for use in another recipe)
  • 1 10-ounce can Mexican green tomatillos. drained
  • 1/8cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth

In a stew pot or Dutch oven, heat 1 Tablespoon oil over medium heat and add the onion. Sauté the onion with a little salt until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 2 minutes longer. Add the green chiles, tomatoes, tomatillos, cilantro and veg broth. Bring to a gentle boil.

Insert immersion blender — or transfer everything to a blender — and puree.

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons red vinegar (optional — but highly recommended)

Add salt, pepper, and vinegar (if desired) to taste.

Grill (or bake) Tofu:

I have a grill pan that I like to use when I think a somewhat-charred flavor will benefit a dish. So I used it for this dish and grilled the tofu slices. Then cubed, and added to the chile verde sauce.

To serve: put Roasted Sweet Potatoes in bowl, ladle Tofu Chile Verde over top. Sprinkle with additional chopped cilantro and a dollop of sour cream, if desired.

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Beet and Orange Salad

I lived in Portland, OR back in the early 90’s when it was still somewhat undiscovered. What an exceedingly cool, authentically funky, artsy, eclectic town … with lots to explore, providing wonderful stomping grounds for me during my mid-20’s.  Some of my happiest years are my years in Portland, and this was due in large part to the city, itself, and its amazingness. But also to my bosses/mentors and the staff at Higgins Restaurant. And to my fantastic roommates, with whom I lived in our adorable bungalow on SE 32nd & Stark, near Laurelhurst Park. Great, GREAT neighborhood, and many a good time with that crew.

Some of my favorite memories from that time are from the potluck dinners we hosted. My roommates’ friends became my friends, and we all enjoyed cooking and experimenting with cuisines, so the “Cultural Supper Club” was born. We would choose a country, then complete our research at nearby Powell’s Books for Cooks, and then indulge in delicious foods, wines and cocktails from around the world. Participants signed-up for appetizers, entrees, beverages and desserts, and over time we expanded the roles to include researching and making a presentation about the country and its customs — especially if they influenced the ingredients and dishes. As our group grew larger, we added the role of investigating and bringing music from the region. Each gathering was a wonderfully well-rounded, cultural immersion. Convivial, scrumptious and educational!

I’m thrilled to have found a group of friends interested in starting this tradition here in Rochester! Our group originally dined out, and enjoyed getting to know each other while exploring restaurants new to us, and letting others do the cooking. Knowing that we all enjoy cooking and experimenting with new recipes, we decided to get together for a potluck dinner one evening. Our host suggested we pick a theme, which turned out to be Indian foods, so we enjoyed lassis, biryani, dahl, coconut custards, and more. At the conclusion of our meal together, I asked if they would be interested in resurrecting the “Cultural Supper Club.” They were excited about the idea!!

Our first official gathering featured foods of Spain — YUM!!! We included the spouses who could make it, and had a rip-roaringly fun meal together! Jaws and bellies ached from laughing so much! Below are the pictures of each course, and a few of the gorgeous home of our hosts — a lovely restored farmhouse out in Honeoye Falls. They served everything using beautiful china, crystal and silver … and we were greeted at the door by our friend holding a large pitcher of sangria:

Tapas for our first course: Patatas Brava (Potatoes with Aioli), Bacon-Wrapped Dates, Stuffed with Bleu Cheese, Spanish-style Shrimp with Garlic and Pan De Horno (Spanish crusty bread) to use to sop-up the sauce!

For our main courses, we devoured Pollo al Ajillo (Garlic Chicken) and Paella, accompanied by my Beet and Orange Salad (recipe below):

We concluded the meal with a Spanish cheesecake Quesada Pasiega, served with strawberry jam, enjoyed with a lovely Spanish brandy Gran Duque de Alba. How lucky that one of our group had made a recent trip to Spain and brought the bottle back for our gathering!

Stay tuned for recipes and pictures from our next get-together, featuring a proper English Sunday Lunch, followed by an afternoon stroll! If you and your friends like cooking and experimenting, I highly recommend starting your own “Cultural Supper Club” — so fun!!! And please read to the end, for mention of another activity that I recommend for cooking and learning about food called Cooking Matters.

Without further ado, the recipe I created using Spanish flavors to make a Beet and Orange Salad. True to form, I doubled this to make a huge batch since I was sure Mr. Batch and I would like it well enough to enjoy for our Veggie Snacks the following week:

Beet and Orange Salad

6 servings

 

  • 1 pound of whole beets

Preheat oven to 375-F.

Coat beets lightly with oil. Wrap beets in aluminum foil, place on a baking sheet, and roast in the oven until cooked through, approximately 45 to 60 minutes.

Remove from the oven, let cool for 10 minutes, and then peel and slice into 1/4-inch thick slices.

Vinaigrette:

While beets are roasting, make vinaigrette. You want flavors to “marry” before dressing the salad.

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar

Whisk together ingredients above in a medium size bowl.

  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Stream oil slowly into vinegar-spice mixture, whisking constantly to make emulsion. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Vinaigrette should be on the tart-side.

Assemble salad:

  • 1.5 pounds oranges. I used Cara Cara Oranges from Trader Joes, but I think a mixture of Valencia Oranges and Blood Oranges would be lovely, as well.

Peel oranges, removing all white pith, and slice into rounds.

“Shingle” alternating slices of beets and oranges on serving platter, and drizzle 1/4 of the vinaigrette over. Eyeball this measurement — you want a fair amount of dressing glistening on the slices of beets and oranges:

 

  • 1/2  bulb fennel, shaved on a mandolin or sliced very thinly
  • 1/2 small red onion, shaved on a mandolin or sliced very thinly
  • 1/2 cup toasted almonds, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves (from approximately 1/2 a bunch)
  • 12 Spanish green olives stuffed with pimentos, sliced

Combine ingredients in a small bowl, and add 1/3 of the remaining vinaigrette. Taste a spoonful that includes all components, and add salt and pepper, if needed. Add more vinaigrette, if desired.**

Mound salad in center of beets and oranges, and sprinkle a few more cilantro leaves, as garnish:

*For a less glamorous presentation, you can combine ingredients in small tupperware containers, and shake to distribute all flavors. Enjoy as a Veggie/Fruit Snack.

**Leftover vinaigrette keeps in the refrigerator for two weeks. I had it over shredded carrots, cubed avocado and thinly sliced red onion … and licked the bowl clean! 🙂

As the tagline says: Make a lot. Freeze some. Now go play!

Well, this isn’t really a freezable dish, but here is what I’ve been up to for play! This week marked the last class in a 6-week program I volunteered with called Cooking Matters, created by Share Our Strength and sponsored by our regional food hub Foodlink, to teach kids about healthy meals on a budget, and to impart skills that will make them self-sufficient in the kitchen. Some of our kids had never opened a can — some had never even peeled a banana. It was humbling and heart-warming to help empower these children to eat more healthfully. If you like to cook and have the time to volunteer, I highly recommend signing up for the Cooking Matters course wherever you live:

And Mr. Batch and I have been out in our garden! Still hard for this Southerner to embrace a Spring that never really starts till late April! I’ve decided to join Mr. Batch this year, to help plant and weed. Here is some of what is blooming in our neighborhood and just a couple of shots from our yard:

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Orange Blueberry Bread

Next week is Administrative Professionals Week. As much as that may seem like a cheesy Hallmark holiday, may I please encourage all you working folk out there to do something for your administrative staff? I’ve been an Executive Assistant for over 10 years, and it is behind-the-scenes-helping-others-look-good-organizational-planning-and-forecasting work I (usually) enjoy. However, it is, by and large, thankless work.

Just for a single appointment to “hold,” and for the executive to be prepared for it, requires several things to go seamlessly. Now imagine all that has to be done for a successful trip: airline reservations, car services, multiple appointments, restaurant and hotel reservations — all of this in cities that are sometimes unfamiliar to both assistant and executive.

Sadly … and I choose that descriptor intentionally … well-executed in-office meetings and out-of-town trips often go unnoticed and unrecognized. Attention is usually only brought to the assistant when mistakes are made or when things go awry.

So please take a moment before the end of the week to write a thank you note, get a gift card, do *something* to recognize the staff that keep you looking good and equipped with all you need. I assure you that a small gift for your administrative staff is money extremely well-spent. Good support staff are worth their weight in gold. “Thank you” and recognition go a lllllllooooooonnnnnnggggg way! 

Looking for ideas for something homemade? Perhaps you might bake a loaf of Orange Blueberry Bread to take to your office staff — or for anyone who deserves a “thank you” and a little recognition:

Orange Blueberry Bread

Yield: 2 loaves or 1 fluted Bundt® cake. Recipe can be halved to make just 1 loaf.

Preheat oven to 350-F.

  • 2 sticks (1 cup / 8 oz.) butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • Minced, grated or microplaned zest of 2 oranges (approx 2 Tablespoons)

Cream together in a large bowl — stir together, incorporating some air until light and fluffy. Can do by hand or use a mixer.

  • 4 eggs

Add one at a time to butter-sugar-zest mixture above, stirring well after each addition

In separate, smaller bowl combine:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

I don’t sift the flour, but stir these ingredients with a fork, to break-up lumps. I’m efficient like that — easier to wash a fork than a sifter. 🙂

Add half of the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar-zest-egg mixture. Stir only enough to combine. You don’t want to incorporate more air into the mixture at this point, as you will begin to develop the gluten-strands from the flour, which will result in a tough bread versus a tender one. 

  • 1 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup sour cream + 1/2 cup low fat milk; or 1 cup low fat milk; or 1 cup whey that you have leftover from making homemade Greek Yogurt from last week’s post; or any combination of these liquids. Adding something sour like sour cream or buttermilk or whey will give the bread another dimension of flavor. I like how sour helps balance out sweet … all about the balance in life!)

Stir half of the liquid into your batter. Stir only enough to combine.

Add other half of dry ingredients, stirring only enough to combine. Finish with other half of your liquid, stirring only enough to combine.

  • 1/4 cup orange juice — squeeze the oranges you zested (above) or use store-bought juice

Stir into batter, and reserve the rest of the freshly squeezed juice for glaze (below).

  • 2 cups frozen blueberries (or fresh). If using frozen, do not thaw — add frozen. I picked mine last summer and am VERY excited to get out and pick more in just a couple months!

Stir berries into batter.

Line 2 loaf pans with parchment paper (or grease and flour the pans, or grease and flour 1 Bundt® pan). Distribute batter into pan(s).

Bake in a 350-F oven for 60-70 minutes. Insert wooden toothpick or skewer to test for a moist crumb (versus liquid batter). Loaves should also be slightly browned and pulling away from edges of pan.

Allow to cool about 15 minutes before removing from pan(s).

Glaze:

While loaves are cooling, pour remaining juice from the 2 oranges you zested into a small pan. If using store-bought juice, add 1/2 cup juice to a small pan. Add 1 Tablespoon sugar. Simmer on low, until volume of liquid is reduced by half. You should have a lovely medium-thick syrup after about 10 minutes.

While loaves (or Bundt® cake) are still warm, brush with glaze. Slice and enjoy warm. Or later, once cooled. I betcha you guessed — these freeze and thaw beautifully, so make 2 loaves … one for now and one for another time.

As the tagline says: Make a lot. Freeze some. Now go play!

Mr. Batch and I have been burning the candle at both ends recently — all good stuff though. Hover over the images below to reveal the captions. His first PhD student has successfully defended her thesis, and we couldn’t be more proud!

I attended the Easter service at Third Presbyterian Church, where my parents sang in the choir over 40 years ago when they completed their grad studies here in Rochester. That afternoon, we joined friends for an Easter dinner together. Coconut cake recipe forthcoming.

And we’ve undertaken a huge plumbing project to replace the galvanized steel pipes in one of the bathrooms of our almost-100-year-old house. Galvanized steel rusts from the inside out, which meant water couldn’t get through the pipes and into the sink for running water, nor could it get out to drain away. Luckily the plumbers were able to go through the ceiling and one wall (versus busting up a beautiful tile floor in the bathroom), but there is dust EVERYWHERE and our kitchen is fairly useless. Cold cuts, grapes and raw veggies, anyone? 😜

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Greek Yogurt

A few weeks ago I traveled back to my home state of North Carolina to join my brother and visit our parents for a week. Prior to heading to Wilmington, NC where I grew up and where my parents still live … in the same house they bought in 1976! … I spent a day in Charlotte and Raleigh, reuniting with friends who I hadn’t seen in many, many years. I got to visit and catch-up with a childhood friend who I’ve known since we were 5 but hadn’t seen for over 11 years! I laughed and told stories with a former co-worker who I hadn’t hugged since I moved to California in 2004!  Spending time with my family was just great. My brother and I are making efforts to visit, together, more frequently.

As I age, I cherish more deeply time spent with loved ones and people who I care for. Time … so precious … and, as I approach mid-life, I realize …  so limited.

I’ve had difficulty trying to put into words how wonderful and meaningful this entire visit was — hence, my delay in publishing this post. Maybe my feelings were influenced by the 70-degree days, filled with sunshine, which were so welcomed after the wind storm and blizzard we’d had in Rochester just a week before my visit. Perhaps it was the dogwoods blooming, with their delicate white blossoms buoyed up by the breezes, peeping over pink azaleas, and in between the longleaf pine trees. Possibly it was the reunion with one of my favorite college friends, who epitomizes  Southern hospitality … gracious and kind, who has a charming heart of gold and is one the BEST storytellers I have ever known. I was swept right back to the our days sitting in our dorm rooms, talking and talking and talking some more. Undeniably, it was the food … drool at the pictures below from an oyster roast I attended while visiting. Not pictured is the lunch from one of my brother’s and my favorite hometown restaurants — thankfully still open, and in its original location, to boot! Heart-warmingly, it was the haircut and visit with the woman who has been cutting my hair since I was 13.  Now a member of the family. So much love there.

Oh … for the gift of more time to be able to visit with so many more people. Hometown friends who I didn’t know well in grade school and high school, but who I’ve grown to love via their Facebook posts and our exchanges. My friend who I met in Raleigh, but who has thankfully since moved to Wilmington and who I usually meet at “our coffee shop” during each of my visits. Our usual cuppa and gab session wasn’t in the cards for this trip.

I have returned to Rochester with a very full heart. Yet, at the same time an ache for my Southern roots. A longing for North Carolina and my people, and the food, and the Southern ways. Since I’ve been back, the Indigo Girls song “Southland in the Springtime” has been on my mind and frequently in my humming. If you don’t know it, have a listen. I’ll close with these lyrics from the song, some pictures (hover over the images to reveal captions), and a recipe for homemade Greek Yogurt (below):

And there’s something bout the Southland in the springtime
Where the waters flow with confidence and reason
Though I miss her when I’m gone it won’t ever be too long
‘Til I’m home again to spend my favorite season

When God made me born a Yankee He was teasin’
There’s no place like home and none more pleasin’
Than the Southland in the springtime

In Georgia nights are softer than a whisper
Beneath a quilt somebody’s mother made by hand
With the farmland like a tapestry passed down through generations
And the peach trees stitched across the land

There’ll be cider up near Helen off the roadside
And boiled peanuts in a bag to warm your fingers
And the smoke from the chimney meets its maker in the sky
With a song that winter wrote whose melody lingers.

Oyster Roast:

And it wouldn’t be a Southern get-together without a table of desserts a mile long!

Visit with friends/former co-workers:

Wilmington is known as the City of a Million Azaleas!

Mr. Batch didn’t join me on this trip, but he sent the winning caption for the early Easter dinner: “Looks delicious! And quaint, what with the rabbits, eggs and flip phone!”

Speaking of Mr. Batch, that guy loves yogurt! I’ve started making homemade yogurt, after I read about this technique. One time, I strained a batch through coffee filters, to remove the whey and make Greek Yogurt. Mr. Batch liked it so much, that he bought this nifty strainer, and now making Greek Yogurt really couldn’t be more simple!  Stay tuned for recipes I’m developing to use the whey!

Greek Yogurt:

Turn on oven to lowest temperature and turn on light. Remove rack, so that only lowest rack is in oven and there is space for a stock/soup pot.

  • 6 Tablespoons of Plain Greek Yogurt with live, active cultures

Set-out on counter to come to room temperature while you prep milk

  • 2 quarts milk — I use organic, fat free milk (and my yogurt culture is also from fat free Greek Yogurt)

Heat milk gently, stirring frequently with a rubber spatula to prevent scorching, until temperature of 180-F is reached. I use a candy thermometer that clamps to the side of my pot, but you could use an immersible instant-read thermometer, too.

Once milk reaches 180-F, immerse pot into ice bath to cool milk. **Turn off oven, and keep light on.**

The pot of hot milk is so hot that it will melt all of the ice and heat-up the water in your ice bath pretty quickly, so I usually change the water in the ice bath at least once, and add more ice. I stir the milk with the rubber spatula as it cools. What I’m trying to avoid is the “skin” of cooked milk on the bottom of the pot.

Once milk cools to 110-F, remove from ice bath. Stir a ladle-full of 110-F milk into your 6 Tablespoons of Plain Greek Yogurt with live, active cultures that you have set-out on the counter to come to room temperature. Try to stir it as little as possible while incorporating the milk. Add 1 or two more ladles-full of 110-F milk until you have a very thick “yogurt-soup.”

Stir that “yogurt-soup” into your pot of 110-F milk and stir briefly to distribute throughout the batch of milk. Try to stir as little as necessary. Then cover the pot and put into the still-slightly-warm oven, and place covered pot as close to the oven light as you can (see below).

Shut oven door and do not open for at least 6 hours. The oven light provides enough heat to incubate the yogurt. I let my yogurt incubate for up to 8-9 hours. When I remove it from oven, I have pot full of thick yogurt:

To make Greek Yogurt, gently add it by the ladle-full to this fine-mesh strainer and then put in refrigerator for 4-8 hours. The duration of the time you strain it determines how much whey you strain out … and, thus, how thick your final yogurt is:

(below) Strained yogurt — thick Fat Free Plain Greek Yogurt. With the whey reserved on the side. **Before you consume all of this delicious homemade yogurt, reserve another 6 Tablespoons into a container and store in the fridge for your next batch!**

I Googled what can be done with whey and came up with this list. It tastes like buttermilk to me, so I’m currently developing recipes that use whey in place of buttermilk, milk or sour cream. Mr. Batch says that cookbook ought to be called, “Yes, Whey!” 🙂  Stay tuned for Orange Blueberry Bread, where I used whey instead of buttermilk/sour cream! Sooooo tasty!

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Black Bean-Brown Rice Veggie Loaf

I have recently started listening to podcasts while I cook each week. As I mentioned before, I am a slow adopter to technology, and have been pleasantly surprised at how simple it is to download a podcast to my phone, pop my phone into my pocket, pop my earbuds into my ears, and cook away while getting edu-muh-cated. So I’ve recently been listening to several episodes of the TED Radio Hour during my Sunday cook-up.

Since cooking is such a sensory experience — taste, smell, vision, and even hearing (sizzling butter, for example) — I thought The Five Senses sounded appealing. The blurb about the episode summarized: “… TED speakers explore how our brains make sense of sensation, and how our minds manufacture ‘reality.'”  I was particularly captivated by the segment “How Can Going Blind Give You Vision” by Isaac Lidsky, who gradually went blind at 25 due to a genetic disease that caused the cells in his retina to die-off. Here is an excerpt of his talk that I found especially insightful:

… What we see is not universal truth. It is not objective reality. What we see is a unique, personal, virtual reality that is masterfully constructed by our brain. … Sight is an illusion. For instance, a landmark appears farther away if you’re wearing a heavy backpack. … You create your own reality and you believe it. … Sight is just one way we shape our reality. We create our own realities in many other ways.

Let’s take fear as just one example. Your fears distort your reality. Psychologists have a great term for it: “awful-izing.” Fear replaces the unknown with the awful. … [Since I began confronting my fears], whenever I feel afraid, I ask myself, “What precisely is my problem? And what precisely can I do about it?”

… Going blind taught me to see. It’s a learned discipline. Choose what reality you want to live for yourself. Hold yourself accountable for every moment, thought, detail. See beyond your fears — they are your excuses, rationalizations, shortcuts, justifications. Your surrender. Choose to see through them. Choose to let them go. *You* are the creator of your reality. With that empowerment, comes great responsibility.

He concludes his talk by describing the reality he chose to build — rather than a life that was ruined by going blind, he “built a blessed life.” He describes how going blind helped him learn to see. And finished with Helen Keller’s quote, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight, but no vision.”

As I listened, I reflected on times in my life I have felt fear. I’m not sure when I became so afraid of failing that I wouldn’t attempt anything new, but this fear presented itself frequently during my years in culinary school, and it was almost paralyzing for me. If I didn’t know how to do something (and there was a LOT I didn’t know how to do), I would convince myself I couldn’t, and would call for rescue before making any attempts. I’ll never forget the night in 2nd Year Dinners when I looked at the “to do” list I had been assigned, and hearing the familiar voices of doubt telling me, “You’ll never finish all of that.” Surprisingly, a new, little tiny voice peeped up and encouraged, “Why don’t you just try?” So I did. And what do you know, I finished the “to do” list. I overcame fear that night … and in the coming shifts throughout my career as a chef … and found a new reality of “I’m capable.”

I won’t lie — to this day, I still feel the initial hesitations of fear when starting unfamiliar tasks. I usually start my “to do” list with the things I don’t want to do (which are usually because I don’t know how). I find that I have the most energy at the beginning of the day, so I schedule the things I don’t want to do at the beginning, and I always hear that same little voice encourage, “OK … let’s just try to get this done and see what happens.” Once I start, I almost always finish the tasks, and they are almost never as hard as I fear they might be.  I think that’s why I resonated with the podcast — especially the “awful-izing” and the distortion to reality that fear can cause.

I recently read an article describing seven things people do who are effective at getting tasks accomplished.  The first tip is to start your day by “eating a frog.”  The article went on to explain the origin of the phrase: “Mark Twain famously said that if the first thing you do in the morning is eat a live frog, you can go through the rest of the day knowing the worst is behind you. Your frog is your worst task, and you should do it first thing in the morning.”

I never thought of it from that perspective, but that works as a motivator, too.  Speaking of eating … this week, rather than making veggie burgers, I tried a veggie loaf for Mr. Batch. Not too different from Black Bean-Brown Rice Veggie Burgers … just shaped and baked differently:

Black Bean-Brown Rice Veggie Loaf

6 portions

Cook the brown rice:

  • 1 cup brown basmati rice, rinsed
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup salsa — I used Trader Joe’s brand “Salsa Autentica”

In 2-quart (or larger) high-sided pot, bring water, salt and salsa to a boil and add rinsed rice. Bring back to a boil, then down to a low simmer and cover pot.  Cook for 35 – 40 minutes. Taste-test for tenderness at end of cooking time — may need another 5 minutes of cooking.

Once tender, pull off heat but leave pot covered for 10 minutes. Then remove cover and fluff with a fork. Allow rice to cool.

Make the veggie loaf:

Preheat oven to 350-F

  • 1 can black beans, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup salsa — I used Trader Joe’s brand “Salsa Autentica”

Mix together beans and salsa in a large bowl. Push off to one side. Add cooled cooked brown rice.

  • 1 cup corn kernels (I used frozen corn kernels that I thawed, but you could use drained, canned corn)
  • 1 heaping Tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Stir ingredients together and taste — for seasoning of salt & pepper, as well as for salsa. If so desired, adding remaining 1/2 cup of Trader Joe’s brand “Salsa Autentica” so that you use-up the entire jar.

  • 2/3 cup coconut flour (if you are not eating gluten-free, you could substitute all-purpose flour)
  • 2 eggs

Add ingredients above to rice-bean-corn mixture in large bowl and stir to combine.

Line an 8×8 baking dish with parchment paper, and press rice-bean-corn mixture to distribute evenly in pan. Bake at 350-F for 30-45 minutes. Loaf should be slightly browned and puffed just a bit.

I cut this into 6 portions, and served with a slice of ultra-thin sliced cheese on top, and slices of avocado and sliced green onions — and steamed brussels sprouts, carrots, and a bit more corn on the side. I froze one portion, and will let you know if it holds-up to freezing and thawing alright:

As the tagline says, “Make a lot. Freeze some. Now go play!”

We’re still hibernating a bit as Winter clings on, and Mr. Batch is teaching this semester which keeps him extremely busy. So I don’t have a lot of playing to report. But this week, I started a different type of volunteering with a nationwide program called Cooking Matters, which is administered locally by our regional food bank Foodlink. For six weeks, my team and I will go to a classroom of 3rd graders to teach them healthy recipes and cooking skills. I was a little leary of how to interact with kids since I am not a mother and don’t have a lot of experience with kids. I’m pleased to report it was a GREAT experience, and I look forward to coming weeks:

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Almond Thumbprint Cookies with Sour Cherries

Rochester got hit by Blizzard Stella this week — dumping 26.7″ — the third worst snowstorm in recorded history. Mr. Batch and I are the unusual Rochesterians who like snow and Winter. Probably because we’ve only been through five of them! We still think snow is pretty, love the change of seasons and the hibernation that cold weather brings, and don’t mind shoveling … forces us to exercise when the weather inspires otherwise.

Before moving here, we got fantastic advice: Embrace the Winter. Don’t resent it. Pick a sport or activity and get out into it. Though we haven’t found that activity yet, we LOVE walking around different parts of the city to see how they look covered in snow: up to Highland Park and through Mt. Hope Cemetery, to name a few:

I grew up on the most southern coastal tip of North Carolina where we frequently wore shorts on Christmas. I’ll always remember the first time walking through Ellison Park here in Rochester, and finally understanding the lyrics to the Christmas carols I grew up singing: “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” and “Marshmallow World.”

And just when I was reveling in all of the beauty and replaying holiday songs in my head with new comprehension … in the distance I heard jingling. ***Sleigh bells!!!*** I turned over my shoulder, and there was a horse-drawn sleigh coming toward us!!!!  So that’s what sleigh bells sound like, and that’s how a sleigh glides along in the snow!!!

Through our years here in Rochester, Mr. Batch and I have had opportunity to go out on frozen lakes, which has been another mind-blowing event for this Southern girl. I’ll never forget standing out on frozen Lake Placid in the Adirondacks and thinking “I’m standing on water!  We’re walking on water!” (hover over images to reveal captions)

And then there was the year when temps hovered for a month below zero, and our friends Lynne & Allen invited us to walk on frozen Irondequoit Bay with them. It was just uhhh-mazing to li’l ol’ me:

Possibly one of my favorite parts of the snow in Rochester, is that the city plows the sidewalks! Not only is it a fantastic service (thank you, tax dollars at work!) but watching the workers clear the sidewalks is always fun! Our favorites are the steam-punk looking tractors:

This tiny truck, which seems more like it brushes and then throws the snow out of the way, is also fun:

To this day, I get excited when I hear the prediction of snow. It’s almost a visceral response, that I equate to having grown-up in an area where snow is SO rare. I remember once in 2nd grade, a fellow classmate yelling out “It’s SNOWING!” And all 30 of us audibly gasping and running to the window to gawk in wonder. This mysterious, frozen precipitation swirling out of the sky that we’d heard about, but rarely experienced.

One of my closest friends is a New Englander, Erika, and she feels the same way about snow as I do, which I think is promising that even she still likes it. She gave me valuable advice when we first moved here of what snow boots to buy, long underwear, water-proof gloves for shoveling, mini-shovel and other items to keep in the car in case we got plowed-in or stuck, etc. After she saw how well I “took” to snow, she surmised, “I always knew you were a misplaced Yankee!”  So true!  😉

With all of this said, even *I* am looking forward to Spring and Summer. I am getting excited to get out and pick fruit in the nearby orchards. And to preserve and freeze the produce from the nearby farm-stands and farmers’ markets. Opening bags of frozen raspberries and slices of peaches and smelling their intoxicating perfume (even when they’re frozen!), brings me *right* back to the summer months. So I thought I would share some of the things I’ve been doing with what I “put away” last year.

For breakfasts, I’ve been enjoying my “frittata”, made with G&S Farmstand broccoli that I blanched and then froze, and pesto that I made from the Lovely Lisa’s basil from her garden, and served with a Slow-Roasted Tomato half (also made with tomatoes and herbs from her garden):

Kevin West’s Sour Cherry Preserves, made with cherries I picked at G&S Orchards, shaped into a heart (awww) and sent on a pancake with Mr. Batch to work on Valentine’s Day:

A lovely salad made with yellow wax beans from the Rochester Public Market, pickled into Kevin West’s Dilly Beans — added to chopped red cabbage, tomato, green onion and cucumber. We poured just the brine over the salad and it was scrumptious — no oil (low fat!!!) needed:

And on the day of Blizzard Stella, I thought it was time to remedy the cookies I’d made that spread so unexpectedly:

I’m pleased to now present a workable recipe for Almond Thumbprint Cookies with Sour Cherries:

Yield: 36 cookies

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar

Stir ingredients together in a large bowl and beat air into the mixture to make it light and fluffy. You can do this by hand or with a mixer.

  • 2 egg yolks (egg whites reserved, in a separate bowl)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons almond extract

Add to butter-sugar mix and beat until light and fluffy

In a separate bowl, combine the following dry ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup almond meal (I buy this at Trader Joe’s)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Add dry ingredients slowly to butter-sugar-egg mixture, stirring only enough to combine (don’t incorporate more air into mixture at this point).  Cookie dough will be stiff. Roll into walnut-sized balls.

  • 3/4 cup toasted almonds, fine-chopped by hand or in food processor

Dip cookie ball into egg white and then roll in chopped toasted almonds. Space about 2″ apart on parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake at 350-F for 15 minutes, rotating pan half-way through baking, to ensure even baking in case your oven has hot spots. Lift a cookie to check for doneness — if cookies are not golden-brown on bottom, might bake for another 5 minutes.

Once cookies are out of oven, press the back of a spoon or small scoop into each mound, to make indention. Then, once cookies are cool, fill with sour cherry preserves or other favorite jam … or even lemon curd. Yum!

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Moroccan Meatloaf

My word for 2017 is “redesign.” Though this is hardly a new activity for me.  You may remember I wrote a “Reflection” devoted to how I’ve redesigned myself through several careers, picking up fantastic skills with each job, that my next employer has always benefited from.  I started changing careers back in the mid-90s before it was professionally acceptable. Consequently, through my years of interviewing, I’ve gotten a LOT of questions and criticism about switching jobs, and have even been labeled by a family member as “never satisfied.”  Sometimes my insecurities get the better of me, and I buy-in to those judgments. But on my best days, I don’t look at myself or my decisions through their lens. I prefer to think of myself as ever-evolving. Narrowing-in on what it is that makes my heart sing. My friend Cassie calls me “adventurous.” And I really like that version of my story! Curious. Willing. Open to trying something new, to see if it fits.

Earlier this year, I mentioned that I’m redesigning myself into a freelance grant writer.  I’ve fallen so in love with telling my stories here on BatchBitch.com, that I’m trying to make a “go” of telling more stories. Grant writing is all about story-telling … conveying the stories of nonprofit organizations to funders, to see if the missions of the nonprofits match the priorities of the funders. Grant writers are matchmakers, of sorts. Thus far, I like that aspect.  Trying to write a compelling story of why the funder ought to find the nonprofit attractive. And researching evidence to make the story even more intriguing.

It’s not without its struggles, though. Writing, and the creative process, has very high highs, and very low lows and the voices of my insecurities have been a bit louder these past few months than I’ve experienced in awhile. And nonprofit organizations don’t always have sustainable programs, which means that no matter how compelling the story, they aren’t always going to get funding.  Resulting in rejection, which can be a tough pill to swallow and has led me to question myself and my redesign.

And then along comes my friend Lynne, to encourage me to not to feel like I have to make a permanent decision. To approach grant writing and other professional endeavors with a sense of exploration, to see what they’re like and to see if I enjoy them.   Come to think of it, she, too, uses the word “adventure.”  And so does my friend Stacey, and my friends Rachel, Gloria and Erika.

I was reflecting on all of this as I cooked for our little family this week. Redesigning. Adventure. Exploring and trying something to see if it will work. And I’m pleased to report the results below with my recipe for Moroccan Meatloaf. I’m MORE pleased to be able to publicly thank my friends for their support. And validation. Bless the validation and encouragement of friends!  (To bring you a giggle, read this article about friends and validation.)

But back to cooking and recipes … If you haven’t tried it yet, wait no longer and make a batch of Smitten Kitchen‘s Carrot Salad with Harissa, Feta and Mint. It is DELICIOUS and you will want to eat the entire batch:

I made it for our Veggie Snacks one week, and Mr. Batch and I liked it so much, that I redesigned it a bit, and incorporated it into this recipe:

Moroccan Meatloaf — a redesign of Smitten Kitchen‘s Carrot Salad with Harissa, Feta and Mint

Serves 5

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat and add garlic and spices. Stir frequently and cook for about 3 minutes, until you begin to smell the seeds and spice toasting. Give thanks for your nose and sense of smell. 🙂

  • 3/4 teaspoon harissa (I bought mine at Trader Joe’s)
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice

Add harissa and lemon juice to pan, and stir to combine. Cook for about 1 minute more on low heat, stirring frequently.

  • 1/2 pound carrots, peeled and grated on a box grater (or in a food processor)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Add to saute pan, stir to combine, and cook on low for about 5 minutes, stirring periodically. You want the carrots to expel their natural water content, so as not to make the meatloaf “water-y” as it cooks.

Allow cooked carrot-mixture to cool.

  • 2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • One 6-oz. container of crumbled feta
  • 1 pound of ground beef (or ground lamb, or a combination of the two)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • several grind of freshly cracked pepper

Combine these ingredients in a large bowl, and add cooked carrot-mixture. Shape into a meatloaf and bake at 350-F for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, cut into meatloaf to make sure it is cooked throughout.

I ate this with boiled potatoes, roasted baby zucchini, roasted onions and steamed broccolini.  I kept 2 portions of the meatloaf refrigerated, and then froze the other 3 portions to thaw as I was ready for them:

 

To keep the dish vegetarian, you don’t need to cook the carrots, but you certainly could. I cooked 1/2 cup of dry quinoa and 3/4 cup brown rice, separately. Then combined the cooked grains, and added the rest of the ingredients above (minus the meat, of course) and got five very generous 1-cup portions for Mr. Batch’s lunches this week:

 

If you leave the feta out of each version, they become #dairy-free, and the meatloaf becomes #paleo.

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