Ahhh... Thanksgiving has come and gone and our refrigerators are packed with turkey, stuffing (OR dressing), gravy, something green bean-y and cranberry sauce. Notice I did NOT say "pie" OR "mashed potatoes." Pie and mashed potatoes are always the first things to go in our house! I think our daughters sneak portions into their rooms to nibble on during the night because those two yummies in particular always go first no matter how much I make! I made two pies and ten pounds of organic mashed potatoes! Go figure? Maybe I should check under my pillow in case I walked in my sleep!
This year's Thanksgiving was a little different. This year I packed several days worth of Thanksgiving Day meals into shiny metal boxes and sent them home with our daughter to feast on over the coming week at college. There is something very gratifying about packing up a substantial amount of food and sending it home with your child who is away at school. 'At least you know they will eat well for a few days in a row.' You think to yourself as you pack and shove ungodly amounts of turkey and stuffing into too small containers while you secretly (well not so secretly NOW) think at least it's out of my house! (Sorry honey...)
Since we celebrated Thanksgiving late, I have only had one meal of leftovers but tonight's dinner will also be leftovers. By the time I (and most of you) get to day three of leftovers, I am a little "leftover-ed out!" So today's recipe offering of Ravioli Lasagna is meant as a sort of rescue meal. Ravioli Lasagna will save you from both having to go to too much effort in the kitchen and another turkey dinner! Most of you are a day or two ahead of me, as far as leftovers are concerned, so I hope the combination of easy cooking and the soft pillows of cheesy, saucy ravioli are a treat for your palette. At least there is NO more turkey!
I will be making my Mary's Kitchen Ravioli Lasagna Tuesday, November 29th on WFMZ Television! In the mean time, visit my Recipes page for the recipe.
Our daughter, Alyssa, says I cheat at pie-making. This is an utter falsehood! Well, ok, I cheat a little... We had a 'who made more mess' side by side comparison and since she lost, she called me a "Cheater." I ask you, is that fair? So what if I monkeyed with the results, a little. Does that really make me a cheater?
Today is two days after Thanksgiving and there is a bit of confusion in our house. We are eating Thanksgiving dinner tonight BUT our house is decorated for Christmas. (It is our family's tradition to decorate our home for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving.) Our younger daughter, Mia, got to participate in the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade so when most Americans are cooking their turkeys, I was riding a bus at 5am along with all the other (three busloads) of half asleep family members of the band. I have to admit, we had a blast! As non-native Easterners, it was a really fun parade to attend. The police officers were friendly and helpful, the crowd was jovial and kind. A wonderful time was had by all! The balloons and bands and cheers were not something we will forget anytime soon. "SPIN IT!" (Attend the Philly parade if you want to find out more...)
We came home and instead of stuffing our tummies, we stuffed back into busses and then defrosted and passed out. Upon arriving home, instead of over-eating, we went to a movie on Thanksgiving Day for the first time in our lives . When we got home, I did a bit more meal preparation and readying for our feast today. You see, Mia was also was supposed to participate in a tree lighting ceremony the day after Thanksgiving where we live BUT instead, she spent the entire day asleep, nursing a headache and budding cold.
Yesterday afternoon, Alyssa and I made our pie crusts for the organic apple and pumpkin pies we will share with friends later this afternoon. Below, you can see me weaving the scalloped crust strips into a lattice pattern - after all, it is Thanksgiving and a little extra effort is required. I really enjoyed the process and feel gratified and proud of my pies. I even made little autumn leaf cutouts to place on top of the pumpkin pie. The most satisfying and enjoyable aspect of cooking with our daughter(s) and friends are the connections you make while doing so.
Cooking together is relaxing and fun. It's a time when Alyssa (who is home from college) and I reconnect and catch up on each other's lives. She tells me jokes, I teach her cooking tips, tricks and techniques. She gets irritated with me for teaching her cooking tips, tricks and techniques... Mostly, we laugh and lots of hugs and love are involved.
Cooking encompasses everything I hold dear; loving, nurturing, respecting, valuing and teaching those I love. Cooking allows me to share (and pass on) my knowledge and experience and to connect with anyone. I also learn something new every time I cook.
What tips, tricks and techniques did I share with Alyssa about pie making you ask? I think you're a bit nosey BUT here is what I have to offer (besides a virtual smile and hug.)
1. ALL ingredients for the pie crust should be the same temperature, COLD.
2. Some of the butter pieces should remain the size of peas when it is incorporated into the flour.
3. DO NOT add too much liquid. ALWAYS hold back a portion of the liquid your recipe calls for because too much liquid will make the crust tough. Give the flour a chance to hydrate before adding that bit of water you held back. The crust should be supple, not cracked and dry.
4. DO NOT EVER stretch a pie/pastry crust. FIT it into place and do not panic if it is too long, short or whatever. You can always patch it up and no one will know or most importantly, care.
5. No matter your level of cooking ability, pie crusts can be a challenge, so just have fun.
I just returned from Florida... Ahh the sun and amusement parks and the sun and the exhausted children and (did I mention?) the sun! I returned home to winds upwards of 50 to 60 miles per hour and absolutely NO opportunity to show off my tan lines! My plane was, thankfully, only delayed a little over one hour due to high winds and closed runways. I was prepared for a much worse delay and worriedly kept my eyes glued to the flight monitoring screen hoping and praying for no additional delays. I believe I finally exhaled when I heard the magical words, 'We are now boarding passengers with children under age six.' Along with the masses, I hoisted myself up and lugged my bags forward and thanked God for the opportunity to cram into a tiny, flying metal box (like a lemming) and find my seat.
I joined (and traveled with) a dear friend and along the way, met SO many lovely and generous people! People who shared their spirits, gifts, business experience and, as it turned out, cooking talents (another blog on that to come) and in the process, renewed my faith in kindness and rekindled my spirit. I almost forgot how harsh Pennsylvania winds can be but one step outside the terminal jolted my memory. It actually snowed as we drove home. Apparently it was nearly 70 degrees the day before! Even Mother Nature is confused by the world...
So, why am I telling you all this? Well, why else? With cold weather comes the world's most comforting drink, hot chocolate! I made some for my family last night and thought I would share a tip. Ready? There is NO such thing as too many marshmallows! According to our younger daughter, the adequate amount is: 'Enough to cover the entire surface of the chocolate PLUS an additional layer.'
So, the Batten Down those Hatches, grab a cup of hot chocolate and bag of marshmallows, you're gonna need them!
Well... we did it... our country made its choice and now we must make a decision as people and as a nation, to move forward and work together or sit down and give up. I choose to move forward.
I choose to move forward for many reasons.
1. I love my country and I want to be able to hold my head high as a woman, a wife, a mother, a daughter and a friend.
2. I believe I have a purpose. I have purpose as a woman, wife, mother, daughter and friend.
3. I believe moving forward has a purpose. That purpose ranges from standing up for "basic" rights such as the right to be valued, seen and heard, as a person, to the purpose that ALL lives matter... Moving forward shows myself, my husband, my daughters, my friends and my country there are reasons to move forward and both battle for and instill these reasons in our own generation and in those to come...
4. I believe in my mind, heart and spirit that somewhere, out there, there is a way to move forward.
5. I believe I can be of service to those around me and help to counsel and guide the lost masses toward a path of "light" and assist to maintain the freedoms ALL of us take for granted and may no longer be afforded. I can do this with my voice. (My speaking voice and my writing voice.) I can do this by choosing when to use my voice and how I use it.
6. I have hope. I have hope in people...
7. I have faith in people. I must and so must we all...
8.. Lastly, I believe, in some small way, food will help...
WOW! Those statements may well be the most profound and important I will write - ever.
Each of us is allowed a space on this small planet we ALL call home. We ALL have that in common. (Well, at least it's a place to begin.) ALL of us must eat. (A second commonality.) ALL of us is different. (A third commonality.) Different in our minds, hearts and appearance. Okay. Now what? From the most basic of commonalities, great foundations may be built in the same way that a great recipe may emerge from basic ingredients. Like life, a recipe is more than the sum of its parts. A recipe is more than its ingredients. To be truly great, a recipe takes knowledge, experience and heart in much the same way our life can be great if we just take the time to gather experiences, grow from those experiences, combine our knowledge and experience to move forward and then to live with heart.
All right! Enough! I've said my say! Thank you for indulging me... Your reward? A fantastic, soul-healing comforting recipe, Avgolemono Soupa! What? Never heard of Avgolemono Soupa? Some cooks/chefs you see on television refer to this soothing Greek soup as Greek Chicken Soup or Greek Lemon Soup. It is both actually. Can you think of anything more comforting than comfort food? What is comfort food anyway? Comfort food provides a feeling of well-being, a feeling of "home," a sense of calm. I think I will take a generous helping of that thank you! Avgolemono Soupa, or "Mama Soup" as it is called in my house, is a "must-know" recipe. It is a creamy concoction of chicken broth, rice, eggs and lemon. Sounds pretty comforting and yummy right?
I created Mama Soup when our daughter Alyssa was tiny. Alyssa was a picky eater so I used to make this soup for her. Since she could not say Avgolemono, (I mean come on... what two-year can) I just called it “Mama” Soup and still do. Alyssa was an active toddler and we still lived in California, our home state. We purchased our first home in Tracy, California, located in the San Joaquin Valley. We had a lovely, happy home that was nearly empty. Like a lot of young couples just getting started in their first home, purchasing the home was more important than having the furniture to fill it up. When you have toddlers, little furniture is a blessing actually. I mean how else can you play soccer in the living room or tag or duck-duck-goose or hopscotch? Anyway, I let Lyssy run around and play while she ate. She happily returned for bite after bite of Mama Soup. Mama Soup is still one of her favorite comfort foods.
The soup is protein rich and economical to make. It works equally well with a homemade stock or the (low-sodium, organic) store bought variety. To make Mama Soup requires a bit of patience and skill BUT the recipe you will find on my Recipes Page is one I created and is time-tested. "Mama Soup" is a recipe that is DEFINITELY part of my upcoming cookbook! I hope a warm, creamy bowl of Mama Soup will help you to move forward and give you some comfort. Food can connect us and unite us. We all should be searching for ways to connect and unite with one another. Food crosses barriers that neither thoughts nor stones can. Make a bowl and then make a thoughtful list of ways you can help yourself and the world move forward. It will heal your spirit.
If elections were categorized as storms, lets face it, this electoral "storm" has been a whopper! Cloudy, thundering, dangerous lightning, hail and strong winds... it's times like these, that I wish I lived in Kansas, where storm cellars are common place and high winds are known to lift houses clean off their foundations and transport them to a rainbow city. Wouldn't that be glorious?! Actually, this analogy is not so far-fetched. I feel like I've been hit in the head with a window pane, knocked unconsciousness and I'm about to wake up to either a dreamland or a total nightmare!
OK you voted right? Or you're about to vote...or you plan to vote... or you did vote... whichever of these categories you fall into, I hope you did (or will) vote... So now that you have fulfilled your civil responsibility, reward yourself! How about a nice steaming cup of thick, rich, French-Style Hot Chocolate! Just saying the words "French-Style Hot Chocolate" gives a spring to a step and your spirit a lift. Chocolate was created for times like these!
Dark chocolate is an excellent antioxidant. Dark chocolate can improve blood flow and lower your blood pressure. Do you see where I'm going with this? You owe it to yourself to make a nice, steaming, rich, cup of dark, thick French-style hot chocolate. You will feel better. Your family will feel better. And I will feel better knowing, dear readers, I have done something to ease you along the Yellow Brick Road to a happy moment. I have just one word of caution for you about this hot chocolate, drink it in small cups and savor each sip.
Visit my Recipes Page to see how to make it.
Today, in my area of Pennsylvania, it will be a high of 70 degrees. Yesterday we saw temperatures well past 70 and over the weekend we broke a record when our thermostats topped out at 83 degrees! Wait! There is more... Tomorrow our weather will drop by nearly 20 degrees! This see-sawing of weather has me a bit confused. What the what? Mid 70's in November? In Pennsylvania? My mother always says this is "pneumonia weather." Our poor bodies do not know what to do. All around me people are sniffling and coughing... My allergies are a mess! I wake up all stuffed up and freezing cold, since there is frost on the ground in the mornings, and by midday, I am peeling off the layers upon layers I wear when I leave the house. I do not know if I should wear a tank top or topcoat!
Speaking of layers, lets talk squash! First of all, what is "squash?"
For my purposes here, I am talking about "squash" as in "fruit" NOT "squash" as in that strange-o British game played by crazy people. I say this because the game is played in a walled-in room, by grown people, wearing little more than over-sized goggles and too-short shorts. The ball is squishy (in case you get nailed in the face) hence the name of the game. See? Crazy people... I am also not talking about "squash" as in smash and smush the daylights out of something although smashing and smushing is fun. No dear readers, I am talking about "squash" as in fruit. Yes. Squash is considered a fruit. They may not look like it, but pumpkins are in fact, a fruit. To make a long story short, a fruit develops from the ovary of a flowering plant. Vegetables are all the other plant parts. All the other plant parts? No wonder people don't want to eat them! Holy May! Can you imagine trying to entice your child (or childlike adult) to eat a salad if they knew that? "Come on Honey. Eat your other plant parts." You say with a scared smile across your lips... I say again, "Holy May!" I am an avid "other plant part" lover and I would not want to eat a salad if I thought of vegetables like that! (Lets just keep that a secret ok?)
Getting back to layers, pumpkins and other fruits. It's November and November is the time for my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. Traditionally, pumpkin pie is on our dessert menu. I love to purchase a sugar pumpkin (or three) and roast them before I puree the flesh for pies. (The puree freezes quite well.) I use the puree not only in pies, but also in pumpkin soup too. Pumpkin soup is super easy to make. Just put diced onion, curry and a bit of salt into a pot along with a touch of oil or butter. The onions and spice get to know each other about 5 minutes, then in goes some broth, brown sugar and pumpkin puree. Fifteen minutes later, add cream if you like, adjust the seasoning and serve. Easy right? Yep, it is. But, today's blog is not about soup but what to do with all the lovely and delicious seeds you mercilessly scraped and scratched out of the inside layers of the pumpkin. For the love of Pete, DO NOT throw those beauties away! Toast them and roast them! Please!
I say toast and roast because I do both. I begin by toasting the seeds in a bit of oil in a frying on the stovetop along with a touch of salt. When the seeds turn golden-mahogany, I finish them by roasting them in a moderate oven until they are crispy-crunchy. They keep for a long time and even make a thoughtful gift. Try them in salads or as a garnish for the pumpkin soup I know you will make later, right? Eat them alone. I dare you to just eat one or two... handfuls. We eat them shell and all. What a yummy and healthy Fall treat!
Visit my Recipes Page for the steps and recipe guide.
Why are we so afraid, uncomfortable and apologetic in our own kitchens? There's nobody watching us... The kitchen cooking police are not going to come dropping down out of our ceilings on wires (like in the movies) and arrest us... our mother-in-law's are not coming to visit... we have no one to impress, except ourselves. So why is it the vast majority of us are afraid and uncomfortable in our kitchen?
I ponder this question quite often. As a professional cook and instructor, I think I've seen it all! I've seen my students blissfully chopping away, oblivious to the fact they are only one chop away from mistaking their finger for a carrot. I myself have nearly burned off my eyebrows and eyelashes while flambéing pork chops, regardless of the fact I've flambéed food dozens upon dozens of times, on purpose even. I have seen students panic when their sauce curdles. In plain language people. ALL of what happens in your kitchen, "good" and "scary" is an opportunity to learn! ONLY through doing can you improve, progress and learn!
Don't be stymied by the thought or even the probability of failure, DO the recipe anyway. Like Yoda says, "Try not... There is only DO!" or something close to that. I am YOUR Yoda! Stay with me dear readers...
I am a very confident cook. What makes me confident? Well, I like to experiment, rarely follow (or need to follow for that matter) a recipe and possess excellent knife skills. However, the minute my husband's boss steps a toenail over our threshold, all my skills go down the drain along with my confidence. I do not know why this is because he is a very nice man and we've known him for years. But, dear readers, he is like kryptonite to my kitchen skills! The dish (side dish really) in particular I seem not to be able to make, is rice. Normally, I'm extremely talented at making rice. I follow a simple formula handed down for generations and then I toss that out the window and improvise (and like most anybody who makes rice, hope for the best) because, well, it's what I DO.
I bring 2 cups of water to the boil. I add 1 cup of rice (Jasmine or Basmati are family favs) and 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pot. When the water returns to the boil, I stir the mixture, cover the pot and lower the heat to low. After about 20 minutes of cooking time, I fluff the grains with a fork. If there is a touch too much moisture, I replace the lid but this time slightly ajar and allow the rice to cook some more until (hopefully) I remember to serve it at dinner.
Sounds easy enough right? Enter, the boss. You'd think I was smart enough to just take the easy way out - just don't serve rice when 'the boss' comes to dinner. I don't know what it is but whenever that man comes to dinner rice is always on the menu and I see no other way around it... I say embrace the sticky and MoveOn!
But seriously, why do we question ourselves in our kitchens? I think it's because, at our core, we want to "please", we want to "excel", we want to "compete" and "win." In the case of cooking we are competing against ourselves and I think that's why we, often times, set ourselves up to fail.
Cook from the heart people, not the head. Your heart will not fail you but your head will. Don't "overthink" when cooking. Absolutely, most definitely, cook out of your comfort zone because cooking out of your comfort zone is the only way to improve your skills and your knowledge and your confidence! Especially around the holidays, I make dishes I've never made before, at least one or more. It's super fun to do and keeps me moving forward as a cook. Try it! No one is looking!