Category Archives: Recipe

May the Road Rise Up to Meet You

Suze here, wishing you the happiest of St. Patrick’s Days.  Am I Irish? Yup. Some of the names in my family tree are Higgins, McBath, Kearns, and Morrison.  But of course it doesn’t really matter. No matter your background, St. Patrick’s Day is about celebrating with the ones you love–even if it means drinking green beer!

Beltany Stone Circle, photo courtesy of www.pdphoto.org.
Beltany Stone Circle, photo courtesy of http://www.pdphoto.org.

So today, in honor of Ireland’s most famous little round thing that grows underground, I thought I’d share a recipe with you. Enjoy!

Suze’s Mashed Potatoes

  • 6 Medium Size Potatoes–My favorite is Yukon Gold, and yes, the type of potato really does make a difference. You want a waxy potato, not a baking potato like a russet.
  • 1/4 to 1/2  cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup sour cream or cream cheese (lite versions are fine, but don’t use the fat free stuff–yuck!)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and quarter potatoes, rinse with cold water, and place in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Cover with fresh cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook until fork tender. This will probably take around twenty minutes, but keep checking them. Drain the potatoes immediately–don’t leave them sitting in the hot water or they’ll turn to mush.

Return potatoes to hot saucepan (off the heat). Mash the potatoes with your favorite mashing tool, then add the remaining ingredients, starting with 1/4 cup of milk that you’ve warmed in the microwave along with the butter. Mash everything together, adding more warm milk if necessary to make a creamy consistency.  Taste, and season with salt and pepper.

Serve hot with more butter and gravy if you have it. This ain’t lo-cal. Get over it, LOL!

Variations:

  • Add a cup of grated cheddar cheese during the hot mashing process
  • Sprinkle cooked potatoes with crumbled bacon and chopped scallions (Bacon? Did somebody say bacon?)
  • Drain a can of corn and mix into potatoes along with ground beef or turkey that has been browned with some finely chopped onion and drained. Place mixture into a casserole dish, cover with shredded cheese, and bake at 350 until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
  • Leftover potatoes? Place in a saucepan the next day and stir in chicken broth until your desired soup consistency is reached. Season with a bit of thyme and some more freshly ground pepper.

How will you be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day? I’ll leave you with a classic Irish Blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields  and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

And may you all find your pots of gold!

Casey’s Pasta Fagioli

Happy Friday all! Casey here. Sadly, I don’t have a lot of time today – book to finish and all that –  so I decided to share a family recipe – Pasta Fagioli.

Italian for “beans and pasta”, this dish is great on a cold winter night. Contrary to what The Olive Garden restaurant servers tell customers – Pasta Fagioli is NOT Italian chili. Traditionally, there’s no meat in this dish!!

This recipe can be doubled (use 2 bags of beans and 2 cans diced tomatoes) or even halved. I have to double it because Older Son devours it.

What? No meat. The cat does not approve.

I don’t soak the beans for hours ahead. It’s not necessary. You can if you want, but I don’t bother.

Ingredients:

1 bag white beans (I use navy beans or whatever small white beans my grocery store carries). Remember to check for small stones.

4 or 5 cloves of garlic (or to taste)

3 or 4 celery stalks cut in large chunks (0r to taste)

1 – 14 oz can diced Italian seasoned diced tomatos

1 – 14 oz can of tomato sauce (NOT jar sauce)

1 lb box of ditalini

Water

Olive oil, salt and pepper

Prepare as follows:

1. Dump the beans, tomatoes, sauce, celery, and garlic  into a large sauce pot. (I toss in whole, peeled cloves because I don’t like it and it makes it easier to pick out!)

2. Fill pot with water until near the top. Heat to a boil.

photo (2)3. Cover and simmer on low heat for 2 – 3 hours or until beans are soft.

4. At this point, I add half the box of pasta (save the rest for something else). Watch the water level so the pasta doesn’t suck all the water out of the soup. Add more if needed. If you want to cook the whole box, do it in a separate pot.

5. Final step – pour in a glurg or two (that’s a technical term) of Olive oil and then add salt and pepper to taste. I follow my Grandmother’s advice, adding oil too soon will make the beans tough. I don’t know if that’s true but boiling for hours doesn’t do the oil any favors.

Serve warm with crusty bread. Yummy.

Leftover can be re-heated, if you added pasta in step 4, then you will need to add more water and/or tomato sauce.

Enjoy!

Friday Favorites – There’s Beer in my Bread!

Welcome friends! Casey here!

I never thought I’d be typing these words – the first draft of Mystic Hero is finished! It’s not IMG_1187pretty, but it’s done and will be heading to my beta readers shortly. Whew! Just in time for NaNo (which I usually unofficially participate in), so I can finish my other manuscript - Lachlan’s Curse.

To celebrate, I’m sharing a recipe I recently re-discovered. When I was a teen, my mother used to whip up a loaf of beer bread and, man, was it delicious. And super simple to make. After my sons were born, I made it a time or two (using non-alcoholic beer) then I kind of forgot about it.

I’m not sure what triggered the desire for beer bread. Maybe it was the stew I was making at the time. After a quick search of the internet, I managed to find one that replicated my mother’s recipe at Food.Com. If this one doesn’t tickle your fancy, there are dozens of variations out there in cyberspace.

A note about flour. This recipe uses either all-purpose flour or self-rising. If you use self-rising, omit the baking powder and salt.

Also, I don’t actually sift my flour (you can if you want to). Instead, I stir it first (in the bag), then scoop it into the measuring cup and gently level it off. This is the proper way to measure flour.  Never tap the measuring cup against the counter or scoop flour directly from the bag using the measuring cup. If you do this, your baked goods will resemble a dense brick. Don’t say I didn’t warn you first!

Enjoy!

Classic Beer Bread:

Ingredients:

3 cups flour (see note above about proper scooping) OR self-rising flour

3 tsp baking powder (skip it if you use self-rising flour)

1 tsp salt  (skip it if you use self-rising flour)

1/4 cup of sugar

1 – 12 oz of beer (I used Sam Adams because that is what hubby had stashed in the cellar. If you don’t want a strong beer taste try something paler)

1/4 to a few tablespoons melted butter (Mom never used butter so you can skip it. But try it. You might like it).

Oven temp: 375 degrees

Grease the bottom of a 9″ loaf pan.

1. Combine all the dry ingredients with the beer.

2. Put in the loaf pan. (I’ve heard of people mixing ingredients right in the pan, but I don’t see how without making a big mess).

3. If using melted butter, pour over the top (this will make the crust crispy).

4. Bake 1 hour. Remove from pan and cool about 10-15 minutes. Try not to skip the cooling step. Otherwise the bread will fall apart when cutting (Not that it stops my husband or older son!)

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Anyone else love beer bread? Have any variations to share or other simple bread recipes?

Fun With Ground Beef

TGIF!! Casey here.

IMG_3320Today, I’m poking my head out of the writer’s cave to share a quick, easy recipe that I call Casey’s Taco Beef Melt. This is one of those recipes that I just threw together using things I had already had on hand and, added bonus, it cooks quickly without heating up the house too much.

Feel free to substitute chicken (or other meat) for the ground beef or use only beans, or use tortilla chips instead of Doritos. Also, this can be used as topping on a salad or rolled into a soft tortilla.

Ingredients:

  • 1 – 2 lbs ground beef (I used two because I have hungry men to feed)
  • 1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 – 2 packages low sodium taco seasoning (if you use 1 pound of beef, use 1 package)
  • Water – according to seasoning packages.
  • Doritos (about 1/3 of an 11 ounce bag)
  • 1- 2 cups shredded  cheddar cheese of your choice

1. In a skillet, brown beef (or meat of your choice). Drain excess fat once browned.

2. Add beans, then taco seasoning and water.

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3. Once the seasoning is thickened, crush up chips and place over top until covered.

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4. Sprinkle shredded cheese over the tops of the chips. Cover with lid until chees melts.

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Enjoy!IMG_3325

Please share your favorite “go to” summer foods!

The Best Things in Life are Three

In case you didn’t see the recipes I posted in honor of PJ’s release of Western Desert, here they are–super easy and super yummy. Enjoy while you’re reading!

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Suze’s Orange-Strawberry Cooler

  • 1 handful fresh mint, rinsed and drained
  • 1-1/2 cups fresh strawberries, rinsed, drained, hulled, and halved (frozen is fine if berries are not in season)
  • 1 quart orange juice
  • 1 can (or up to 2 cups) of plain seltzer water (orange, other citrus, or vanilla flavor is even better!)

Place mint and berries in the bottom of a large glass pitcher. Using a wooden spoon or potato masher, give the mixture a few gentle presses to release the flavor. Add orange juice (depending on the size of your pitcher, you may not need the entire half gallon) and refrigerate until nice and cold.

Pour over ice into pretty glasses and pour some seltzer into each. Garnish with a sprig of mint and a fresh strawberry. **Adults can add a shot of citrus or vanilla-flavored vodka!

Suze’s Pita Chips and Greek-Style Yogurt Dip (Tzaziki)

For the chips:

  • 3 whole wheat pitas (I bought mine in the deli section of the supermarket)
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 3 cloves of fresh garlic, pressed or minced very fine
  • Sea salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a shallow baking sheet with foil. Cut each pita into 6 triangles. Unfold each triangle and cut in half (Each pita will make 12 chips). Place on the baking sheet in a single layer, with the inside of the pita up and the outside of the pita touching the foil.

In a small microwave-safe bowl, mix the pressed/minced garlic with the olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt (don’t overdo the salt!). Microwave on high for 30 seconds, or until garlic is fragrant. Brush the oil mixture onto each pita chip, using up all of the oil.

Bake until the chips are crispy and lightly browned, approximately 7-10 minutes. Because oven temperatures vary, watch them carefully so they don’t burn. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

For the dip:

  • 1 cup Greek-style plain, low-fat yogurt (don’t get a flavored kind!)
  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon dried dill

Cut peeled cucumber in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds by scraping with a teaspoon. Discard seeds. Grate cucumber using a box grater. Place cucumber into a fine sieve/colander and press gently with a paper towel over the sink or a bowl to eliminate excess water.

Fold cucumber and dill into yogurt. Taste and add a bit of sea salt if necessary. Cover and refrigerate at least an hour. Serve with pita chips.

Suze’s Marinated Chicken and Grape Tomato Skewers

  • 1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken (thighs, breasts, or tenders, whichever you prefer)
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pint ripe but firm grape tomatoes, rinsed

Cut chicken into bite-sized chunks (3/4 inch–keep them fairly small so they cook evenly with the tomatoes). Place chicken, lemon, oil and pepper into glass bowl. Using a vegetable peeler, add a few curls of lemon peel (yellow part only, not the bitter pith). Toss all ingredients gently, cover, and refrigerate at least an hour or up to several hours. Soak bamboo skewers in water.

Preheat outdoor grill, indoor grill, tabletop grill (such as a George Foreman), or broiler. On each skewer, place a piece of chicken, a grape tomato, and another piece of chicken. Grill or broil until chicken is cooked through. Add more fresh cracked pepper to taste.

Bonus Recipe!

If you have any extra chicken/tomatoes and dip, you can have a yummy pita sandwich the next day for your lunch. Just remove the chicken and tomatoes from the skewers and place in a half pita pocket with lettuce and some leftover dip. Add some crumbled feta cheese if you have it, but it’s delicious as is.

What’s your favorite easy recipe?

All Jammed Up

Hey, friends, Suze here. It’s June, and you know what that means in New England–fiddleheads, asparagus, and strawberries.

th[1]You don’t know what a fiddlehead is? It’s an edible fern still in its curled-up stage, and, yes, it looks like the scroll-y end of a violin. The season is super short–like about 10 days or so because they have zero shelf life and must be picked locally, one by one. They taste something like a cross between asparagus, green beans, and broccoli. Lightly steamed and tossed with a bit of butter or olive oil and perhaps a bit of lemon juice or white balsamic vinegar, they’re delicious. And all the more delectable because they’re so fleeting. Wait one day too long and they’re a full-flown fern!

But enough about vegetables. Let’s talk about strawberries. How I love those bright red June jewels, sensual and juicy. I love them right out of the garden, their flavor intensified by the warmth of the sun. I love them sliced and tossed with just a bit of sugar, or a drizzle of real maple syrup or honey, to bring out their natural juice and sweetness, or unsweetened and topped with thick, creamy vanilla Greek yogurt. Sigh. If I didn’t have a whole flat of berries in my refrigerator, I’d want to go to the pick-your-own farm right now!

One of my favorite things to do with strawberries (and other berries too) is to make jam. If you’ve never canned anything, it might seem a little daunting, but I’m here to tell you that homemade strawberry jam is the perfect way to start your canning career. With just a bit of advance organization, it’s super easy! One taste of freshly made strawberry jam on a whole grain English muffin and you will never, ever go back to any jam you buy in the store, I guarantee. And if you make a batch or two now, you can give jars away as holiday gifts. This is a perfect recipe for sharing with friends, family and neighbors.

So here’s how to do it:

Buy your jars. I like the eight-ounce crystal quilted jelly jars made by Ball because they’re so pretty! Here in New England you can buy the jars at most grocery stores, as well as farm supply stores such as Agway and Tractor Supply. I think I’ve seen them at Walmart too. The jars themselves are reusable pretty much indefinitely as long as they aren’t chipped or cracked, so when you give away your jam, be sure to ask for your jars back eventually.

The jars will come with a two-piece lid: a metal ring and a round, flat metal top with a special coating on the underside. The metal rings can also be reused unless they are rusty, but you will need to buy new tops every time (you can buy them separately).

Buy your pectin. Pectin is a natural fruit-based gelling agent (it’s abundant in apples, for example). It comes in different forms, such as a liquid, but I prefer Sure-Jel Lower Sugar Recipe (the kind in the pink box). I have not always had good luck with other brands, but Sure-Jel has never failed me, so I stick with it. This is usually found right next to the canning jars, or sometimes near Jell-O and instant pudding in the grocery store.

Buy your berries. Get your fruit from a local farm if you possibly can. You’re supporting your neighbors and small business as well as getting a quality product. Organic is always best! You can either buy the berries already picked and pay a couple of bucks more, or get some exercise and pick them yourself. You will need about six heaping quarts of berries, or about six pounds. (Get another couple of quarts to eat fresh). To correctly pick a berry, hold the stem between your index and middle fingers and pull gently. The berry will pop off along with its little green top. Leaving the top intact keeps the fruit fresher longer.

Which berries to pick? You want them to be firm and bright red–not orangey-red or greenish-white, which means they’re underripe. Not purple-red and mushy, which means they’re overripe. The best way to judge ripeness is to taste one. It should be firm, sweet but slightly tart. If it’s extra sweet and squishy, pass it by. If you’re really not sure, err on the side of less ripe than overripe for the best tasting jam.

Take them home–do not wash until just before you’re ready to use them!–and put them in your fridge for up to a day or two.

Prepare your jars. Run the jars, lids and rings through your dishwasher while you prepare the berries (below). Keep the jars hot in the dishwasher.

Prepare your berries. Fill up your colander with berries and give them a quick rinse under cold running water, draining well. Hull the strawberries by circling the pointy tip of a paring knife around the green top, then discard the tops. Quarter the fruit and place in a bowl. Every once in a while, squish the berries with a potato masher. You want juice and bits of berry to equal six cups. When you get to six cups, you’re done and can eat the rest.

OK, I promise, the time-consuming part is done! Now with a bit of organization, you will have jam cooling on your counter in about thirty minutes.

Set up the following on the counter right next to your stove:

  • Newspaper or paper grocery bags to reduce mess (cover the counter)
  • A plus/minus one cup ladle
  • A long-handled large spoon, wooden or metal
  • A canning funnel, if you have one. Not strictly necessary, but these wide-bottom funnels are inexpensive (get them where you buy your jars or order online if you’ve got the time) and make filling the jars easier. If you don’t have one, don’t sweat it. You can just carefully ladle your jam into the jars.
  • A clean, lint-free dishcloth (the microfiber ones work well)
  • Your jars, still hot from the dishwasher
  • Your metal rings
  • Your flat metal lids, sitting in a pan or bowl of very hot water
  • A bowl containing 3-3/4 cups of granulated (white) sugar
  • A bowl containing 1/4 cup of granulated (white sugar) mixed with the contents of your box of pectin (Sure-Jel)

Now you’re cooking! These last steps go fast, and you can’t stop in the middle of the process, so make sure you won’t be interrupted.

Place your six cups of mashed berries/juice in a very large saucepan (I use my mother-in-law’s old copper-bottomed Revereware dutch oven), along with the sugar-pectin mixture. Give it a good stir and turn up the heat to high. Continue to stir until the mixture comes to a full rolling boil. What that means is that as you continue to stir, the mixture continues to boil. If you stir and the boiling bubbles subside, it’s not there yet.

When you get to the full rolling boil (usually takes about five minutes on my stove), carefully add the rest of the sugar (the 3-3/4 cups) and stir. BE CAREFUL! Working with anything this hot requires caution. Stir the mixture gently until it comes back to a full rolling boil (usually less than five minutes). Now check your watch or the kitchen clock, and boil and stir for exactly one minute, then shut off the burner.

Immediately ladle the hot mixture into one of your jars, leaving about 1/8 to 1/4 inch of space between the level of the fruit and the lip of the jar. Do not fill all the way to the top, and do not leave too much space. Using the lint-free cloth dipped in water and rung out, wipe the lip of the jar. It must be perfectly clean (water droplets are okay) in order to seal. Now place a flat metal lid (shake the water off) on the jar, and screw the metal ring onto that. Immediately turn the jar upside down on the newspaper.

Working quickly, repeat the process until your jars are filled. If you have not quite enough to fill the last jar properly, don’t worry. You will just keep that jar in your fridge and use it first (it’ll probably be gone that same day!). Wait five minutes, then turn your jars right side up and allow them to cool, undisturbed and out of any drafts. Eventually you will hear a satisfying “pop” as the jars seal. In a couple of hours, check your seals by pressing down on the flat metal lid. If there is any play in the lid, your jar may not have sealed and you should put it in the fridge rather than on the pantry shelf.

Caveat: The instructions inside the Sure-Jel package call for you to process the jars in a boiling water bath. This involves setting a rack inside a very large stock pot, filling with water, and boiling the filled, sealed jars of jam for ten or fifteen minutes. Honestly, I don’t do this. The turning-the-jars-upside-down method is an older technique that I’ve been using for years. Strawberries, and other fruits, have a high acid content that naturally inhibits growth of any nasty stuff.

You should make the decision whether to do further processing based on your comfort level. If you’re really worried, you could always just keep your jars in the fridge. They will last a long time.

And that’s it! Ever wanted to try canning? Once you get the hang of it, it’s not scary or intimidating, and the results are so worth it. Let me know if you have any questions about the process. If you’re not interested in canning, tell me about your local farm stand or your favorite place to buy fresh fruits and veggies.

Recipe Repost

Happy Thursday, Scribe peeps. Suze here. I’m working on the second book in my mystery series (more about that coming soon!) and I’m a bit short on time, so I thought I’d bring back a classic post from a while back. Like a fine leftover, I hope you enjoy it even more the second time around!

When is a fiction book not just a fiction book?  How about when it contains recipes, or knitting patterns, or the directions for some other craft project mentioned somewhere within the story?

There are lots of  fiction books out there that do this.  It’s very prevalent in cozy mysteries, many of which feature a sleuth who has some special skill or occupation that assists her in solving the crime.  There are mysteries based on/in catering, knitting, embroidery, gardening, a coffee house, a cookie store, an apple orchard, and even a cheese shop.

And it isn’t just mysteries.  Debbie Macomber, who is an avid knitter, sometimes includes patterns at the end of her romances.

Bonus material like this can be a lot of fun, and might help an author sell more books.  But these things must be done . . . delicately . . . as the Wicked Witch might say.   I’m reading a mystery right now where there are numerous references to a particular dish.  It’s clearly a clue, but that recipe is inexplicably not included with other recipes at the end of the book.  (I admit it.  I peeked.)   There’s another series where it seems the author really wants to write a cookbook — it’s long on recipes (some of which are quite yummy), but the story is a bit thin.

Lots of authors do manage to make the process seamless.  Personally, I’m waiting for some bonus material to appear in a police procedural (“How to Tap a Phone Line”), or paranormal (“Summoning Entities for Fun and Profit”) or steamy romance (Instructions for  . . . use your imagination!).

What about you?  Do you love or hate the extras?  Do you ever actually make the food or craft?  Here’s a little takeaway for you — the recipe for Tomato Cocktail, via my mother-in-law’s recipe box:

fresh-tomatoes[1]King Family Tomato Cocktail – makes about 1 quart

1 heaping quart of ripe, juicy tomatoes, roughly chopped (support your local farmstand, please!)

2 stalks of celery, roughly chopped

1 small onion (or half a large onion), roughly chopped

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

3 whole cloves

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Place everything into a pot and simmer 40 minutes. Let cool, then run it through a food mill to extract the skins, seeds and cloves. If you don’t have a food mill (mine is straight out of the 1950s, inherited from my mom-in-law), you can strain the whole mixture into a bowl through a colander, pushing the juice through with the back of a spoon, or just fish out the cloves and run everything through a blender or food processor (you’ll get more texture this way). Chill, stir, and enjoy. You might enjoy it more if you add some vodka, Worcestershire, and hot sauce! I like to make a double or triple batch in the summer and freeze in zippie bags for the winter. This also makes a delicious hot tomato soup to go with your grilled cheese.