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Volume 40 Issue 22 • Nov 22 - Jan 2011
now in our 40th season

Winter Comforts

by Jenn Farmer
Chef, Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm 

There was a time when I thought most people had an idyllic winter/ holiday season.  I imagined egg nog, carolers, bright colors, and cheerful music.  Crackling fires in warm hearths decorated with pine boughs, and brightly colored bowls of clementines, and holly.  I imagined everything being accompanied by a cheerful, magical disposition, with no work or stress involved.  That was when I was a young, foolish, child.  Now I understand our family was not the only one that didn’t fit the Norman Rockwell stereotypes.  I am not saying our celebrations were bad; they just weren’t exactly fairy tale quality.  Usually the house had an aroma of dying cedar tree, with undertones of burning bread and singed hair (frequently, and understandably, followed by the smell of gin or scotch). 

The sound of choral music was replaced by the sound of whatever sports were on the television, and sarcastic comments about what kind of gelatin salad we would be subjected to this year.  One relative was always ridiculously late, and by then tensions and snide comments were running high.  Inevitably someone’s attire was insulted, and old bits of history were unnecessarily brought up.

The second the food began to hit the table, it was like a bright beam of sunshine, and the day was redeemed.  The meal was always delicious, and everyone’s mood seemed to lift as the food was served.  The only negative comments during the feast were longing for one more bite of the long gone potatoes, or creamy chocolate pie.  The mood changed, everyone began to enjoy the festivities.  That is when I truly understood what celebrating was all about.  I also found out how important food is to creating or even changing a mood. 

Today I like to keep the holiday celebrations simple.   I love baking bread in the winter and making chowder or stew.  It warms the house and smells so enticing, (unless the bread catches on fire...umm, don’t ask...).  Who doesn’t enjoy coming out of the blustery cold to a nice warm bowl of soup with freshly baked bread and a cup of cocoa, or nice hearty red wine?  The following bread recipe is very good with soups, stews, chowders, and salads.  It has a very tender texture, and the dill in it goes well with most seafood, especially lobster. 

Dill Cottage Bread

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • One half teaspoon baking soda
  • One half teaspoon salt
  • One cup cottage cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • One third cup milk
  • One quarter cup sugar
  • One quarter cup melted butter
  • 3 tablespoons fresh dill or one teaspoon dried dill

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   Grease a 4-1/2 inch by 8-1/2 inch (or comparable) loaf pan.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Whisk the cottage cheese, eggs, milk, sugar, butter, and dill.  Fold into dry ingredients until just moistened, the batter will seem very thick.  Spread into greased pan, and bake for about 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 10 minutes before removing from pan and onto wire rack.  Cool completely before trying to slice.  Yields 16 slices

The beauty of soups and stews is that they can be made from high-end ingredients or a bunch of leftovers successfully.  Soup can also be thickened to make it hearty, or thinned out and stretched out, if you have unexpected guests.  Some of the most elegant soups I have made are extraordinarily simple.  In fact one recipe I like to use for homemade tomato soup came from a children’s recipe book, and only contains four ingredients.   A great soup can take a lot of time or can be made very quickly.  The following one is a bit time consuming, but nice for house guests.  More liquid, vegetables and fresh herbs can be added to bulk it up.  Sometimes I even add a little curry or other spice for variation.   Local winter vegetables are a great flavor combination with earthiness of fresh Lobster.  I like to add cauliflower and parsnips for a real treat.  Chicken can be easily substituted for the lobster.  The results are still delicious, but slightly less elegant.

Winter Lobster Stew

  • 2 sprigs parsley, 2 sprigs thyme, 2 sage leaves, 2 bay leaves
  • One half teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 2 one and one half pound lobsters, live
  • 3 shallots, minced
  • One clove garlic, minced
  • One third cup butternut squash, small diced
  • One third cup potatoes, small diced
  • One quarter cup celery, small diced
  • 1 quart fish stock, shellfish stock or chicken broth
  • one third cup corn kernels, fresh if possible
  • A few tablespoons sherry
  • 1 pint cream
  • Fresh chives, chopped

Cook lobster in water seasoned with fresh herbs, bay leaf and peppercorns for about 11-13 minutes, pull out lobster, and let drain.  When the lobster is cool enough to handle, take all the meat from the carcass.  And cut into bite size pieces.  Sauté the garlic and shallots in a little olive oil.  Add squash, potatoes, and celery, and cook for a few minutes.   Add 1 quart of shellfish stock, fish stock, or chicken stock.  Bring to a simmer, and then add corn, lobster, sherry, and cream.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.  Garnish with chives. Serves 4

There is something about the chilly weather that always makes me crave sweets.  One of my favorites is fudge.  Just like ice cream, there are countless flavor and filling combinations for fudge.   Milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, or peanut butter are just a few of the basic starting points, then add just about any kind of flavoring, dried or candied fruit, or nuts,  and you have yourself a gourmet treat.  One of my favorites is the following simple recipe.  I frequently substitute kirsch for the vanilla, dried cherries for the cranberries, and add toasted almonds for an alternative.  Pecans or pistachios are also really good in fudge.  I think pistachio tastes especially good in white chocolate fudge with vanilla extract.  Or perhaps you don’t like nuts, and would prefer different flavors like mint, cherry, or butterscotch.  The options are endless.   Plus it is nice to have a snack on hand for those who might happen to drop by and spread holiday cheer.

Cranberry and Cashew Fudge

  • Two thirds cup low fat evaporated milk
  • One plus two thirds cup granulated sugar
  • One and one half teaspoons salt
  • One cup dark chocolate chopped
  • One and one half cup small marshmallows
  • One teaspoon vanilla or bourbon
  • One half cup toasted cashews (hazelnuts can be substituted)
  • One half cup dried cranberries
  • One half teaspoon orange zest (optional)

Place the evaporated milk, sugar, and salt, into a saucepan and bring to boil.  Allow to boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Add the dark chocolate and marshmallows, stirring continuously until it is all melted.  Add vanilla, nuts, cranberries and zest.  Pour into a greased 8 inch square pan (or an equivalent) and tap the pan lightly to even out fudge and remove any large air pockets.  Allow to cool for a few minutes before placing it in the fridge to chill.  Let it get cold enough to cut easily (overnight at the most).  Cut and enjoy.  Makes 8 inch pan

 

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