Winter Holidays = Cookies

It’s that time of year! Winter is well and truly here; winter solstice and Christmas are just around the corner. Our outdoor projects have been traded for some much-needed indoor renovations. So we’re shifting things here and there, patching walls and ceilings and generally making a huge mess. That’s right, a week ’till Christmas and we’re tearing the house apart. Not to worry though, this is just a classic example of “it gets worse before it gets better”, and we are beyond ready to be rid of these old pepto bismol pink walls!

But, as we all know, the holidays are not about whether or not your walls are pink, or if your house is spotless in time for guests, the holidays are about being together with those we love. So while we are chipping away at the piles of stuff (in hopes of fitting a tree in here somewhere) we’re also making time to bake cookies (and eat them with friends), play in the snow, craft ornaments, read, and just spend time together.

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DSCN8453The tree is by Ezra and the I is by Ishmael, of course!

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DSCN8410On the topic of cookies, if you’re looking for a gluten/grain/nut/ egg/dairy free (AIP Compliant, Autoimmune Protocol) cookies you have to try these Jam-filled Thumbprint Cookies from Delicious Obsessions. I tried a couple other AIP cookie recipes with such dismal results I almost gave up on the idea of cookies. These are a mixture of coconut butter, shredded coconut and coconut flour which give the cookies a great crumbly cookie texture. You can make your own coconut butter by running shredded coconut through the food processor until it resembles a nut butter. It will be runny and a tad grainy immediately after processing but it will set up, like store brought coconut butter, with a little time. These cookies work best with warm stir-able coconut butter so freshly made coconut butter is perfect.

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DSCN8445For everyone else, we made these to use with the cookie cutters. Everyone says they’re good and it’s a great recipe for kids because the dough is easy to handle and doesn’t fall apart easily. We also made these thumbprint cookies this year. They have no nuts so my kids prefer them to the traditional nut rolled thumbprint cookies. I find we make a handful of the same kinds of cookies every year plus one or two new kinds for fun. Cookies are essential for the holidays – and we’re fresh out!

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Chicken Kiev

DSCN9992As far as chicken dinners go chicken kiev is one of my family’s favorites. It looks fancy but it’s pretty easy to make. This recipe was passed down from my mother-in-law when struggling_along and I married 10 years ago. I still remember the first time I made chicken kiev. Having never made it before, I did not realize that the chicken was supposed to be wrapped around the filling. I had simply rolled them up, allowing all the butter and herbs to melt right out into the bottom of the pan! It was still edible but it’s even better if you succeed in keeping the butter and herbs sealed in the center of the chicken.

The Recipe

First prepare 6 boneless, skinless, spilt chicken breasts by flattening them so that they are even in thickness and a bit larger, which makes them easier to roll up.Then combine the herbs in a small dish:

1/4 tsp dried tarragon

2 Tlb  dried parsley

1/8 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp salt

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Then, using 1 Tlb butter for each piece of chicken, dip the butter into the herb mixture and coat well. Place the herbed butter in the middle of each piece of chicken.

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Roll the chicken up, around the butter, trying to tuck in the ends of the chicken. Secure with a tooth pick.

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Coat in a 1/3rd cup flour (or cornstarch if you want it gluten-free). Use the flour to help seal the ends of the chicken.

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Then dip the floured chicken into 1 egg beaten.

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Coat in 1-2 cups of bread crumbs (use gluten-free bread to make gf crumbs).

DSCN9959Place in a buttered baking dish. I like to use a Pyrex dish.

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Bake at 425 for 5 minutes then turn the oven down to 400 and bake for 40 minutes or till done. Baste with any butter that does melt into the pan.

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DSCN9982Serve and enjoy! Serves 4-6. This chicken goes well with a lot of different sides. For this particular dinner I made roasted potatoes and peas but any veggies, mashed potatoes, rice pilaf or what have you works well.

DSCN9991Here’s the recipe again, in short form:

Chicken Kiev

6 pieces chicken breast

1/4 tsp tarragon

2 Tlb parsley                   -Mix these herbs together

1/8 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp salt

6 Tlb butter                   -Coat in above herb mixture

Roll up chicken around butter and secure with a toothpick. Dip chicken into (in order)

1/3 cup flour

1 egg beaten

1-2 cups bread crumbs

Place in a lightly buttered pan. bake at 425-5 minutes then at 400 – 40 minutes. Baste with any pan butter.

That’s it.

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Clam Chowder & Peasent Bread

Being this early in spring the days still carry a chill. What better way to warm up and enjoy some comfort food than with Clam Chowder? Ironically, after 5 years on the coast of Maine, the best clam chowder I’ve had was here in Vermont. It was a special and I don’t go out to eat very often so I enjoyed it thinking “I wish I could make this a home”. Then my Mom hooked me up with this recipe- wish granted!

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This recipe is from Grit magazine. My mother made a few adaptations that I think really add to an already excellent recipe. Here’s Grit’s recipe – reproduced for your convenience:

Alida’s Clam Chowder Recipe

A thick, creamy soup, this is my mother’s recipe, and she still makes it.

1 pound bacon, diced
3 large onions, chopped
4 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 cups water
3 small cans minced clams
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch thyme
¼ cup butter
¼ cup flour
4 cups milk
1 can evaporated milk

In skillet, fry bacon until crispy. Add onions and cook until browned.

Add potatoes and water, and cook until potatoes are tender. Stir in clams, pepper, sugar and thyme, and let simmer.

In separate pan, over low heat, melt butter. Whisk in flour. Add milk a little at a time while continuing to whisk until white sauce starts to bubble around edges. Pour white sauce into clam mixture and let cool.

Just before serving, stir in evaporated milk. Cover and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes, or until heated through. Do not boil, as it will ruin the texture of the soup. Yields 3 quarts.

My mother’s suggestions: If the bacon is really fatty drain some of the grease off. Double the potatoes and cans of clams.
I think those are suggestions are spot on. I also sometimes replace the water with bone broth and I use corn starch so it’s gluten free. You can also use half and half instead of a can of evaporated milk or cook 2 1/4 cups milk down to 1 cup.

DSCN0341DSCN0492Now that you have a great chowder only some crusty bread will do it justice. I came across this recipe for a no knead bread called peasent bread, baked in a pyrex bowl. It’s super easy and adapts well to a gluten free version. I tried it with sweet white sorghum flour- delicious! I won’t reproduce the instructions here because it’s quite long with tips, photos and variations.

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DSCN0342Enjoy it with the clam chowder -or even just with jelly.

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Homemade Breadcrumbs

Here’s a cooking staple so easy to make at home I don’t even know why breadcrumbs are sold in the supermarket. They’re almost too simple to post about-  but they’re that good.

First, start with some bread. Store brought or homemade- even gluten free. End slices, whole slices, edge pieces from sandwiches; room temperature or frozen, it doesn’t matter.

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Place the bread in a food processor and pulse several times, running the processor until the bread is in fairly uniform crumbs.

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And there you have it: fresh bread crumbs. Use right away or store in the freezer for a longer shelf life.

For dried breadcrumbs you can dry some bread in the oven before processing or dry the breadcrumbs afterwards. Generally fresh crumbs can be used interchangeably for dry crumbs. Although, once in a great while, a recipe may specify dry crumbs to absorb more moisture.

Also, if you don’t have a food processor you can dry some bread and rub the slices together creating dried bread crumbs or you can use your fingers and crumble fresh slices for fresh crumbs. It works but it’s a lot more labor intensive, hence the food processor.

DSCN9960These fresh crumbs are especially great on homemade chicken nuggets, Chicken Kiev…. basically anywhere you want a tasty, crispy breadcrumb coating these will be the star.

Enjoy!

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Macaroni with Tomato Sauce, Baked Eggs and Ricotta

Man have our new chickens been laying! Up until this past week they had been laying 8-10 eggs a day (out of the 10 chickens we have left now that a pig decided to have one as a snack). I find myself adding eggs to anything I can think of. This book: The Good Egg by Marie Simmons is solely egg recipes. I made Macaroni with Tomato Sauce, Baked Eggs and Ricotta one day a while back for lunch. It’s basically lasagna using macaroni. I made mine gluten-free by simply using gluten-free noodles. I like the brand Heartland cause they hold up and come the closest to “real” pasta. The eggs cook up with a soft yolk and creamy whites – actually quite good and adding protein.

DSCN7905And the recipe:

DSCN7899Adding the eggs. One just happened to be a double yolk. The recipe only calls for 4 eggs but this definitely serves more than 4 so you could either add a couple of eggs or perhaps someone might want the sans egg option.

DSCN7894Top with cheese and bake.

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DSCN7904This dish goes together quickly; even faster if you could use leftover pasta. I’ll definitely remember this for a last-minute dinner – especially if there are unexpected guests. The eggs really do make it a meal and it’s vegetarian. Add a salad and maybe a baguette and some wine and your set.

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Make Your Own Rice Flour

Grinding your own flour doesn’t just mean grinding wheat berries- grains like rice and oats can be ground at home too. This is great news if you’ve gone gluten free. So many gluten free products are expensive and or full of processed ingredients I’d never bake with myself. Baking my own at home means I have control over exactly what goes in, I save us quite a bit of money and avoid all the excess packaging.

Rice flour is a common ingredient in gluten free baking. Our local stores carry a few gluten free flours (all tiny overpriced packages) and a growing section of processed goods. Last time I went there was no rice flour to be found so I can’t give a price comparison  but I did go home and get my grain mill out (and took it apart and gave it several very through washings).

In goes the rice. This is just white rice but type doesn’t matter you can grind brown rice or jasmine etc.

The results: A very fine rice flour. This stuff is quite dusty!

And it bakes up nicely too. We made some Vanilla Almond Sugar Cookies – a recipe off the back of a package coconut flour from Bob’s Red Mill. I store the rest of the rice flour in a lidded container at room temp.

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Editing: I just want to add a link to this great post from The Frugal Farm Wife. Mix up your own gf flour mix using white rice, brown rice and cornstarch- and she’s worked out the savings.

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Celebrating

For us February is a month of celebrations. Perfect- as winter has grown old and this season’s mildness has only served to fuel our spring fever  to get out there and DO stuff. And if you can’t get out there and work well you might as well have some fun (and that means cake, of course).

First Ezra’s birthday. An amazing 3 years old! He requested blueberry cake. Luckily I had some frozen blueberries still left from last summer. So we cooked them into a sauce/filling. I recently went gluten/wheat-free so we decided to try one of those packaged GF cake mixes. Let’s just say I’m not too impressed. I mean it looks great, and the texture is right but it just tastes……. not quite right.

Then for Valentine’s Day we transplanted some apple tree seedlings. The boys have been planting the seeds from their apples in my rosemary pots. A whole bunch came up so we moved them to their own separate containers.  Of course all this enthusiastic handling by little kids and a dog who has to sit on everything means that we only have a few survivors. Still it was fun and the boys got to check out the various stages of seed sprouting and root growth.

Even Ishmael LOVED it. This boy gravitates to dirt. He can find it, scoot over and get his hands it in 5 seconds flat. That’s my boy!

photo by Noah

Then it’s Noah’s birthday. What?! 5 years old already!

He received a pirate boat kit which he studiously put together- by himself by looking at the picture on the box. Once the glue dried we had some fun painting. He painted his boat and I borrowed a little paint to make him a Batman and Robin peg clothing pin figure.

photo by struggling_along

photo by Noah

Of course another birthday requires more cake! We went more traditional this time with a Chocolate Surprise Cake. It’s an old recipe and doesn’t really give any instructions- just a list of ingredients so here’s my one layer version:

The surprise is a whipped cream filling. It’s really good. It’s like having a HUGE really good whoopee pie.

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linking to Seasonal Celebration Sunday @ the natural mothers network