Monday, October 29, 2007

Strange Brew – Strega

Halloween happens to be among my favorite holidays, that is, if you can call it “holy” at all. An ancient, traditional European festive celebration of all things ghoulish and magical, it is the gateway day to the pious and somber Christian All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day that quickly follow. All three days are each, in their own way, commemorations for the departed and where, in certain climes, a heralding of the cooler seasons, when trees drop their leaves and harvests are fewer and far between.

Everyone has their personal favorite decorations and customs to welcome the day, from ghosts, skeletons and scarecrows hanging in windows and on trees, to the ritual of going door-to-door costumed in everything from ballerina tutus to Freddy Kruger masks for the express delight of begging buckets of candy from strangers. Their beleaguered parents can enjoy their own ritual of weeding out the candy for dining suitability and dental health. Now that I am an adult, the candy has certainly lost its charm in favor of hot apple pie; a dark, sticky loaf of gingerbread; or a Devil’s Food cake. These, however, are the seasonal and charming culinary treats that set the table, but say nothing of what, for me, are the three essential ingredients for Halloween: pumpkins, black cats and witches.

Well, I have the pumpkins (and am debating whether I should go easy on myself and paint faces on their coarse and corrugated skins or if I’ll take a knife to them and cut their savage features into place). I have the black cat (Willem, a year old now, will fully appreciate what all the fuss is about). But what I don’t have is a witch, and from what I understand, witches are in rather short supply these days. I’ll just have to go out and buy one in a bottle.

Yes, I’ll just go out and buy myself a bottle of Strega, a potent and mysterious Italian liqueur/aperitif, the formula, a closely guarded secret of reportedly seventy different herbs, despite the public knowledge that it is glowing with saffron, and strongly tinctured with fennel and mint. Oddly enough, Strega is one of the few alcoholic beverages that I can drink straight or over ice or with just plain club soda. In fact, there are so few cocktail concoctions featuring Strega that I am convinced it is meant to be sipped and savored in simplicity, the better to discover the complicated and nuanced layers of its flavors and allure.

OJ? No way!

So now I have my pumpkins, my black cat, and my witch. Oh, and I have my books, too. No, not the The Legend of Sleepy Hollow with its Headless Horseman by Washington Irving, or The Raven by Elgar Allen Poe, but any of a host of esteemed novels by Alberto Moravia, Primo Levi, and Cesare Pevese, all winners of Il Premio Strega, the most prestigious award for Italian literature since 1947, when the prize was created and funded by Guido Alberti, the distiller of Strega. I’ll drink to that.

Strega - Three Simple Salutes

1 shot Strega served in a liqueur glass with or without a little water or soda, as an aperitif or postprandial digestive.

2 shots Strega over ice in a short Manhattan glass. I prefer crushed ice.

1-2 shots Strega in a tall narrow glass topped with club soda or, if you prefer, champagne. A lime twist is optional.

This post is being sent to Kalyn Denny of Kalyn's Kitchen, hosting Weekend Herb Blogging #107. Kalyn is the creator of this wildly popular food blogging event.

Been There, Done That ~

Champagne Cocktail

Monday, October 22, 2007

Kicking Off Year Three - WHB # 105

The party's over. It's time to call it a .... hey, wait a minute! Yes, I see candles still burning at a table 10,000 miles (16,094 kilometers) long. Weekend Herb Blogging* just celebrated its 2nd anniversary, but that's hardly the end of the story. There's definitely a glow going on, a luminous buffet of thirty-one unique and exquisitely rendered dishes from almost every conceivable culinary corner of the globe. Better take one of the dinner plates, as big as the man on the moon, as you line up to sample the smashing good feast that lies ahead. Don't be too polite, now; you know you may have to go up for seconds....


A squat, fully edible squash, as jolly as
Jupiter, plays a tureen filled with shitake,
nuts, gravy and ground poultry.


Rich, red tomatoes, slowly roasted and strewn
with sharp and tangy herbs makes for a marvelous
burst of flavor in every "Plump Ruby Bite."

Plump Ruby Bites
VegeYum of A Life (Time) of Cooking
Adelaide, Australia


Look sharp, KC Masterpiece Barbecue Sauce.
You have Mike's Masterpiece Sauce to
knock you off that grocery shelf now.

Stewed Creole Barbecue Chicken
Mike of Mike's Table
Florida, USA


A powerhouse of protein and comfort, a perfect
bowl of broth, beans and greens for a tired school
teacher to dig into at the end of her long day.

White Bean Soup with Roasted Turkey
Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen
Utah, USA


There's more than just spinach that meets
the eye in this provincial meatloaf
reminiscent of early Pierre Franey.

Vendée, France


The rich and nutty goodness of spice-charged
chickpeas takes the bitter bite out of
wonderful, but hard-to-find, watercress.

Watercress with Chickpeas
Bee and Jai of Jugalbandi
The Northwest, USA


The sweet and homey aroma of cranberry
almond bread is a much better part
of waking up than Folgers in your cup.

Cranberry Almond Bread
Chris of Mele Cotte
Georgia, USA


Steamy, flaky, savory biscuits were
born for slathering in your best butter.
Don't let one crumb or drop go to waste.

Ramona of The Houndstooth Gourmet
Virginia, USA


Everyone needs an Aunt Vaike to leave baskets
full of antioxidant deep-blue berries on your doorstep,
or someone in Estonia is going to have to open
a bed-and-breakfast soon.

Black Chokeberry Muffins
Pille of Nami-Nami
Tallinn, Estonia


Carrots can taste like they were roasted
in a forest when mixed with
handfuls of robust, earthy sage.

Carote a la Salvia/Carrots and Sage
of The Passionate Palate
California, USA


God bless the lentil, the fastest food in
the legume family. A hearty bowl of hot
stuff can be yours in less than an hour.

Coleen of Colleen's Cookbook
Bratislava, Slovakia


Rice is nice, but lime tang, glowing
papaya and creamy coconut turn the
humble grain into a work of delicate art.

Anh of Food Lover's Journey
Melbourne, Australia


With the strict dietary requirements of
a gluten-free lifestyle, a colorful mix
of fruit and vegetables fill Asian rice wrappers
as well as the belly.

Spring Rolls
Stephanie of What I Eat
California, USA


A melon might not know where it's
going, but it knows exactly where
it's been. Welcome to Italy's newest
quality control technology.

Haalo of Cook (almost) Anything at Least Once
On Holiday from Italy


A mix of tender mesclun greens is the
perfect tussled bedding for a crusty plank of
ciabatta and tender cuts of lamb.

Shaun of Winter Skies, Kitchen Aglow
Auckland, New Zealand


Out of the oven and onto a plate,
lamb shanks garnished with broad bean
emeralds create a rustic still life painting.

Pam of The Backyard Pizzeria
Victoria, Australia


No, there are not four-and-twenty blackbirds
baked underneath that artisan crust,
but a classic British filling of beef and ale.

Beef and Ale Pie
Maninas of Food Matters


Once in a while, the veteran cook in
me gets thrown for a loop. This time
it's larb. Don't know what larb is?
To know larb is to love it.

Pam of Sidewalk Shoes
Tennessee, USA


Franks and bean may leave you cold, but
this robust, fall stew will have
you falling all over yourself for more.

Burcu of Almost Turkish
Indiana, USA


One quince alone can warm a home
with its medieval fragrance. Just imagine a
kitchen quivering with pans of fruit draped in
rosemary and studded with star anise...

Baked Quince Preserves
Ronell of My French Kitchen
Touraine, France


Gather ye tomatoes while ye may, the more the
merrier, for this meltingly rich and delicious quick brunch
or light sup from the south of France.


With a center as pink and glistening as tourmaline,
gently seared tuna gets the minimalist treatment,
pressed with herbs and stung with splashes of lime.

Anna of Morsels and Musings
Sydney, Australia


Baby-tender lamb's lettuce gets the
Greek gourmet touch with fantastic feta,
mushrooms, yoghurt and balsamic vinegar.

Mâche Salad with Feta Dressing
Peter of Kalofagas - Pursuit of Good Eating
Toronto, Canada


I'm not a Pisces, but a few of these
refreshingly bright and clever cocktails
would make a mermaid out of me.

Pineapple Sage Margarita
Gwen of Intoxicated Zodiac
Hudson River Valley, USA


Yellow cherries? Tomatillos?
The mystery melts away while
you melt the chocolate to dip them in.

Will and Rose of Last Crumb
California, USA


Rich in carotene and fiber, Peruvian sweet
potato treats tempt and satisfy the sweet
tooth without too much guilt.

Gretchen of Canela y Comino
Lima, Peru


Crumbly, fragrant crackers are the ideal
accompaniment to a glass of wine.
Rosemary makes memorable even the
simplest of savories.

Rosemary Parmesan Shortbread
Lisa of Lisa's Kitchen
London, Ontario, Canada


Snap, crackle, pop. No, not Rice Krispies,
but mustard seeds sputtering in a skillet, enhancing
a "Plain Jane" of a vegetable for her camera close-up.


Framed in a healthy crust and heavy with herbs,
this egg-rich and elegant pie serves up smiles
and sighs after weeks of eating on the road.

Spring Herb Tart
Lucy of Nourish Me
Melbourne, Australia


An historic fish market, a dramatic presentation, and
piping-hot fillets filled with parsley and bay leaves
are just a few of the delights while dining in Palermo.

Involtini di pesce spada/Swordfish Rolls
Simona of Briciole
California, USA


Easier than it looks, this swirling pumpkin dessert roll
does have a hypnotizing effect on unsuspecting guests.

Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook
New York, USA


* Many thanks to Kalyn for the privilege of hosting this week's recap. And thank you all for participating. Every one of your entries was first rate, a pleasure to read and write about. Thank you for allowing me to set the table for us. Please let me know if anyone's entry is inadvertently missing or needs correction, and I will make the change/s straight away.

Please join Pille of Nami-Nami next week for another culinary extravaganza at Weekend Herb Blogging #106!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Pumpkin and Spice and Everything Nice

Pumpkin butter.

Sometimes, when a woman is expecting, and everyone is busy wondering whether the baby will be a boy or a girl or who the child will look like, out comes the announcement that she is having twins! It was like that for me when I adopted, not one, but two sourdough starters from fellow bloggers, Suganya and Sharmi. Each bundle of Amish Friendship Bread yeast mix arrived at my home within days of each other, each snuggled in buntings of identical clear plastic bags secured with pink plastic zippers. It was impossible to tell them apart, my twin girls, except for the Day One dates written on them, dates, which I later learned through experience, have no real bearing on the baking results. But I digress.
The black-and-white Parisian street-scene calendar that hangs in my kitchen mostly for show actually earned its keep as a cluttered scratch pad of regimented schedule: do nothing, mash the bags, mash the bags, mash the bags, mash the bags, feed the bags, mash the bags, burp the bags, mash the bags, burp the bags, feed the bags….until I wound up with four times the volume of each original starter I received ten days before. (Which in my case means eight times.)
Once the volume of a batch of starter quadruples, it is parsed out into four equal measures, each one bagged. Three are earmarked for other bloggers or readers, and one is for you. You can follow a simple loaf recipe included with the starter instructions or tinker with it, according to how much of a mad kitchen scientist you are. I chose to tinker with one of the two recipes I selected, despite the fact that I had never worked with sourdough starter before. Call me foolish or inclined to live dangerously, but there were too many other starter-enhanced recipes out there online to be confined to the prescribed recommendation. So I followed my autumnal bliss and sought recipes that would feed the pumpkin eater in me. At this point I can feed more than just a pumpkin eater; I can feed an army. I am now the proud and worried mother of sourdough sextuplets, and all my children need better homes than I can provide for them. And so a new cluster of starters are being sent out into the world to the nurturing kitchens of Meghan, Toni, Ruhama and Wendy. Please contact me (thewellseasonedcook AT yahoo DOT com) if you are interested in continuing the baking circle. I still have a few bouncing bags of yeasty beastie babies up for adoption, free to good homes.

Sourdough whole wheat waffle.

Sourdough Whole Wheat Waffles with Pumpkin Butter and Candied Walnuts

Sourdough Whole Wheat Waffles - From the sourdough pancake recipe, using 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup white flour. Most pancake recipes make excellent waffles; this was no exception.


1 cup sourdough starter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup milk
1 large egg, well beaten
2 tablespoons flavorless oil (optional)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar


The night before: Mix 1 cup starter with the flour and milk in a large, non-reactive bowl. Place the bowl in a warm place, cover and let it stand until morning. The next day: add beaten egg, oil, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar to sour dough mixture; mix well. Bake in waffle iron according to manufacturer's instructions. Made eight 6 inch X 4 inch Belgian-style waffles. --

Waffle topped with pumpkin butter, whipped cream
and maple candied walnut.

Pumpkin Butter - My own recipe. There are many variations available online.


2 cups canned pumpkin
1/2 cup apple juice
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or 1/4 teaspoon each cinnamon, ground ginger, ground nutmeg and ground cloves)


Mix all ingredients in a medium saucepan over low heat. Allow to gently simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve immediately over waffles or refrigerate promptly in a sterile container. Use within a few days or freeze leftovers.

N.B. It is NOT recommended that you home can or jar pumpkin or other squash products with or without sugar.

Candied Walnuts - My own recipe


1/4 cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped walnuts


In a small cast iron skillet, heat the maple syrup until just simmering. Add the brown sugar, mixing to melt. Allow mixture to bubble and thicken slightly. Add walnuts and toss them to cover with syrup. Turn off flame. Be cautious with cast iron and melted sugar; both are extremely hot and can cause serious burns. With a metal fork, carefully separate and remove coated walnuts to waxed paper and allow to fully cool.


Top each waffle with a generous spoonful of pumpkin butter, followed by a dollop of sweetened whipped cream. Top with candied walnuts.

Cream cheese-filled pumpkin roll.
Classic Pumpkin Roll - Adapted for sourdough use from the Libby's recipe. The only changes I made were the addition of 1 cup sourdough starter and one less egg than the recipe called for. On a scale of 1-10, I would rate the difficulty of this recipe a 4. The most important tips are to use a freshly-laundered, very thin and finely woven tea towel, and heavily powder it with confectioners sugar to facilitate rolling the cake; use more than the 1/4 cup recommended in the recipe. Powdering the towel prevents sticking. Do not use a bathroom hand towel or a waffle-weave dish-drying towel. They are too thick and clumsy. Serves 8-10. --

This is my entry for Kalyn’s Kitchen Weekend Herb Blogging # 105, which I am delighted to be hosting this week. Do be sure to return on Monday for the full round-up of fine fare from around the world.


Been There, Done That
Injera – Fermented Ethiopian Teff Flour Bread

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Fit for a Party - Roasted Blue Potatoes

I should not have had to travel five hundred miles to find them, but there they were, a few onion-netted bags of them, tossed alongside the other potatoes I had come to purchase. Scott and I had stopped at a supermarket in Freeport, Maine, on our way home from vacation last month, specifically so I could find the famous Maine potato I coveted for inclusion in a recipe for New England clam chowder. I got my five-pound bag of local round whites, but I also got my bag of baby blues.

You wouldn’t think much to look at them; they are homey and homely like most spuds. But these aren’t ordinary spuds; these bumpkins, each small enough to hide in my clenched fist, are the sapphires in the crown of the nightshade family. Cut them, and they will bleed blue much the same way a beetroot bleeds magenta, revealing a flesh of deep and daring violet-indigo glistening with the sweat of its own dye.

A novelty, to be sure, blue potatoes are not as much a rarity in produce departments as they used to be. Yet they have eluded me for years. Cipolline onions, I could get my hands on; bizarre, robotic green cauliflower, I snatched up months ago; but not those little blue baubles. The stars must have been aligned in the sky just right that evening. Call it karma.

And karma calls for a celebration. These potatoes are too special to serve casually and quickly after a hard day at work, when all you want to do is feed yourself and flop in front of the TV. No, they are too festive and dramatic for that, but they are ideal for a great occasion, a Sunday dinner, a birthday, an anniversary, perhaps. Yes, an anniversary.

Weekend Herb Blogging, conceived by Kalyn Denny of Kalyn’s Kitchen, is celebrating its second anniversary this week. There are so many bells, and whistles and fireworks, you’d think it was the Fourth of July. Favorite vegetables enhanced with favorite herbs have been called in from the virtual caterers. Blue potatoes are made to order.

I never met a potato I didn’t like, particularly split and slicked with olive oil and scattered with rosemary and salt. As fate would have it, I actually found a recipe for the seasoning in an old post written by the hostess of honor. Now, just what are the chances of that? Once in a blue moon.

Rosemary Roasted Blue Potatoes (seasoning adapted from Kalyn’s recipe, noted above; blue potatoes inspired by Lucy of Nourish Me)


1 pound small blue potatoes, unpeeled but washed whole, any sprouts or bruises removed
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons dried rosemary leaves, slightly crushed
1 tablespoon sea salt, slightly crushed


Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F. Cover bottom of natural finish skillet with heat-resistant handle (cast iron works best) with the oil. Cut potatoes into quarters, add to skillet and toss to coat with oil. Position skillet on middle rack of oven. Roast potatoes for 20 minutes. Turn off oven heat. Stir potatoes and keep them in oven another 10 minutes. Stir potatoes one last time, then transfer to a serving bowl, tossing the rosemary and salt mixture over them. Serves 4 --

This post is being submitted to Kalyn Denny of Kalyn's Kitchen creator of Weekend Herb Blogging, celebrating the second full year of her very popular food event.

Please stay tuned for next week's round-up #105, which I am privileged to be hosting.