holidays

Raspberry Jam Tart

by Caroline


For a family that cooks and cares about food as much as we do, it was unsettling to face our lack of Christmas dinner traditions. I could happily sit down to a meal of Tony’s grandmother’s lemon-parsley stuffing, Tony’s porcini mushroom gravy (lately infused with his late father’s 1981 port), and some cranberry sauce. Yes, it’s clear we have family foods, but not, like Lisa’s family, a traditional menu we anticipate each year.

So I was a bit surprised when Eli, after bounding down the hall and into our bed Christmas Eve morning, said “This dinner is going to be my favorite!” Tony asked, “What are you looking forward to most?” And Eli responded, “Christmas after it!”

Well, who can blame him? And when I asked what he wanted for dinner, he listed stuffing and gravy, so that’s pretty much what we ate (oh, and some brussels sprouts and chard and caramelized onions and roast potatoes… but that’s another story). For dessert, I was planning just to offer up a plate of Christmas cookies, but this is where Eli had a specific idea: raspberry pie.

Ben, by then cuddled in bed with us, too, and thoroughly steeped in the contemporary food ethos, worried, “Are raspberries in season?”

No, but raspberry jam is always in season, and we even had some homemade jam made by a friend. Raspberry jam tart it was.

I poked around online awhile and took most of my inspiration from David Lebovitz’s recipe but I had cold butter, not soft (and didn’t see the point in softening butter only to refrigerate the resulting tart dough until cold enough to use). So I pulled my Joy of Cooking off the shelf and followed Irma’s lead. I did borrow Lebovitz’s idea of reserving some of the dough to make an easy top crust, though instead of rolling it into a log, chilling and slicing it, as he does, I pressed mine flat and cut out some Christmasy stars. I predict you’ll see this tart on my table again at Valentine’s Day, topped with some hearts.

This recipe makes enough dough for an 8″ tart (bottom crust and top decorations); if you have a bigger tart pan, it’s easy to scale up.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons of cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 cups of raspberry jam
1-2 tablespoons of coarse-grained sugar

Preheat the oven to 400.
Butter and flour the bottom of an 8″ tart pan with a removable bottom.

Whisk the flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest together in a bowl or in the food processor. Add the butter and work in with a fork or pulse in the food processor until the mixture makes coarse crumbs. Add the egg yolk and mix until the dough just starts to come together in a ball.

Reserving about 1/3 cup of dough for the topping, pat most of the dough evenly into the bottom of the tart pan, letting it come up the sides a little bit. Spread with jam. Set aside momentarily while you make the topping.

Taking the reserved dough, press or roll it out on a floured counter or between sheets of wax paper until it’s about 1/4″ thick. Cut into desired shapes, freehand or using cookie cutters. Arrange the shapes on top of the jam, sprinkle them with the coarse-grained sugar, and bake until the crust is golden and the jam is bubbling a bit, 20-25 minutes.

Halloween

by Lisa

Aside from the costumes and the chocolate, we have a one rock solid Halloween tradition. Every year, we pick popcorn at Ardenwood Farm, and then the kids package it in treat bags, with a few candy corn & directions for drying and popping.

It’s a lot of corn to pick and carry, and I’m sure there are some classmates (or parents) who are sick getting of that one single ear of corn every year and would just prefer a good Snickers…but,well, this is just what we do. The Harvest Festival means fall for us, and picking piles of corn to eat and share, and in spite of the usual crowds and, this year, the heat, the kids won’t budge.  The Harvest Festival is fun: making corn husk dolls and sampling vintage recipes, and quilting, and checking out the animals, and picking out enormous pumpkins. There’s a working blacksmith and water pump and an hour, at least, of treking deep into the corn field to harvest dozens of ears of corn.   We pick popcorn, and Indian corn for display, and it’s kind of like hitting the jackpot when you find a tall stalk that’s been untouched. The ears twist off with a satisfying tug, and the you strip the dry husks, and are left with a golden ear of corn, with rows and rows of hard, jewel-like kernals.

We come home with a stash that lasts for months. The corn dries until November, and then it can be popped in a paper bag in the microwave. Everytime we pop some–for snack, or family movie night, or to eat with milk like Laura Ingalls-Wilder–we have some dim memory of the harvest and picking that popcorn together on some hot day back in October.  And just like that, one very small thing becomes one more anchor for our family life.

Mostly we eat our popcorn plain, or with a  spray of olive oil and salt.  But once in a while we make caramel corn. So, just in case you didn’t get enough sugar this year, here is Caroline’s caramel corn and here is our family’s favorite caramel corn recipe.

And that is what we did this weekend, in between all the parties and the last minute decorating: Ella & Finn & a friend who joined her for the harvest stuffed about 80 ears of corn into bags, assembly line style.  Then they hauled the corn to school, had a parade, came home and waited until it was cool enough and dark enough to trick or treat, ran the neighborhood, and Finn ate so much chocolate that he spontaneously broke into a Russian cossack dance and we had to send him outside to run laps.  It was a good day.

Ninja contemplates the moon before bed

Nigella’s Lemon Linguine

by Caroline

daffodils, since I forgot to take a picture of the dinner

I don’t know when I began needing so much lemon in Easter dinner, but this year it worked its way into almost every dish I made for my family, parents, and brothers on Easter day: lemon fettucine, lemon roasted asparagus, and a lemon cheesecake for dessert; only the peas (grown by my dad) and bread were lemon free. And yes, I acknowledge that following cream sauce with cheesecake might feel over the top, but it’s better, perhaps, or lighter, than the Easter my sister and I unthinkingly served the all-cream-and-carb meal of strata and trifle. But it’s Easter, the joyous end of a long fast, so a family should feast.

Here, in her own inimitable voice, is Nigella Lawson’s fabulous lemon linguine:

* 2 pounds linguine
* 2 egg yolks
* 2/3 cup heavy cream
* 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
* 1 lemon, zested, and juice of 1/2, plus more juice, as needed
* Salt
* freshly milled black pepper
* 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
* 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves

Directions

Fill just about the biggest pot you have with water and bring to a boil. When friends are coming for lunch, get the water heated to boiling point before they arrive, otherwise you end up nervously hanging around waiting for a watched pot to boil while your supposedly quick lunch gets later and later. Bring the water to the boil, cover and turn off burner.

I tend to leave the addition of salt until the water comes to a boil a second time. But whichever way you do it, add quite a bit of salt. When the bubbling’s encouragingly fierce, put in the pasta. I often put the lid on for a moment or so just to let the pasta get back to the boil, but don’t turn your back on it, and give it a good stir with a pasta fork or whatever to avoid even the suspicion of stickiness, once you’ve removed the lid.

Then get on with the sauce, making sure you’ve set your timer for about a minute or so less than the time specified on the package of pasta.

In a bowl, add the yolks, cream, Parmesan, zest of the whole lemon and juice of half of it, the salt and good grind of pepper, and beat with a fork. You don’t want it fluffy, just combined. Taste. If you want it more lemony, then of course add more juice.

When the timer goes off, taste to judge how near the pasta is to being ready. I recommend that you hover by the stove so you don’t miss that point. Don’t be too hasty, though. Everyone is so keen to cook their pasta properly al dente that sometimes the pasta is actually not cooked enough. You want absolutely no chalkiness here. And linguine (or at least I find it so) tend not to run over into soggy overcookedness quite as quickly as other long pasta. This makes sense, of course, as the strands of “little tongues” are dense than the flat ribbon shapes.

Anyway, as soon as the pasta looks ready, remove a cup of the cooking liquid, drain the pasta, and then, off the heat, toss it back in the pot or put it in an efficiently preheated bowl, throw in the butter, and stir and swirl about to make sure the butter’s melted and the pasta covered by it all over. Each strand will be only mutely gleaming, as there’s not much butter and quite a bit of pasta. If you want to add more, then do; good butter is the best flavoring, best texture, best mood enhancer there is.

When you’re satisfied the pasta’s covered with its soft slip of butter, then stir in the egg mixture and turn the pasta well in it, adding some of the cooking liquid if it looks a bit dry (only 2 tablespoons or so – you don’t want a wet mess – and only after you think the sauce is incorporated). Sprinkle over the parsley and serve now, now, now.

Maple Easter Candy

by Caroline

Every year, I hope that maybe our Easter trip to my parents’ home in Connecticut will line up with sugar season, that window every New England spring when the temperatures sink below freezing at night but rise into the 40s during the day, with enough sun to warm the trees and encourage the maple sap to flow. Even though I don’t really like that kind of weather, I want my boys to experience what I did as a kid, tramping along in the mud and snow in my grandfather’s booted footsteps as he gathered maple sap and boiled it down into syrup. It takes 40 gallons to make a single gallon of syrup, so a couple energetic helpers would be useful, I know, but so far we’ve missed all the work, instead always getting to enjoy the sweet results of my dad’s labors.

At Christmas time, we make sugar on snow; now that the snow is gone, we made maple candy inside, with nothing but syrup, some simple kitchen equipment, and — because after a visit to Old Sturbridge Village we were feeling old-fashioned — a great deal of arm strength. You can make this, too, with any maple syrup and even an electric mixer.

Pour 2 cups maple syrup into a large pot and bring to a boil. Let it boil gently until it comes to 240 degrees on a candy thermometer (soft ball stage: test it by letting some of the boiled syrup drop off the end of a spoon into a glass of water; if it forms a ball, it’s done). Pour it out into a large mixing bowl (or two) and start stirring:




Here’s a close-up action shot of the stirring:



Stir the syrup until it lightens and thickens to the consistency of peanut butter, about five minutes. You can use a hand mixer if your arm gets tired (or your children refuse to stir anymore). If you want to add some toasted walnuts or pecans (a fine idea) stir them in now.

If you have candy molds, by all means use them. We just spread some waxed paper on the counter and experimented with different dollops. Let the candy set at room temperature for about ten minutes. For long-term storage, you’d want to keep it in the refrigerator, but it likely won’t last that long.