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Recently in: MamaCooks

The Policy--Thumbprint Cookies: MamaCooks

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By Betsy Block We'd tucked the kids in and kissed them goodnight. "Now don't come down," BD told them. "Why do we have to go to bed so early?" they complained. "... Read more


Mango Shrikhand: MamaCooks

By Betsy Block Indian strained yogurt with saffron & mangoes Sometimes, Looking Good requires just a little bit of advance planning. SERVING SIZE: makes 2 1... Read more


Requiem for a Fish

fish_dish.jpg

Coconut fish (in memory of Violet)

  • 1 lb. skinned fish filets (BD used sole)
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into bits
  • 1 Tbsp. le... Read more




    More Articles in: MamaCooks



    MamaCooks

    40

    Blueberries with Berry Cream: Mama Cooks



    By Betsy Block


    TOTAL TIME: mere minutes


    SERVING SIZE: that depends on how much you like whipped cream ...


    After blueberry picking one fine summer day, we ended up with two quarts of gorgeous, plump, sweet blueberries - that no one really wanted to eat, until nine-year-old E came up with this recipe. Even I like blueberries this way:


    (Recipe by E)


    1 cup cream
    cup blueberries
    3 big strawberries (optional)
    1/3 cup sugar


    Combine all ingredients in food processor until thick 'n creamy, about five minutes. Dollop on top of lots of fresh berries in order to make parents happy.

    Betsy Block grew up in Washington, D.C. She worked in catering companies and casual restaurants throughout high school and college. She spent a semester in Kenya during her junior year at Brown, graduating with honors in 1988. She then worked for a year at the renowned Harvest restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Somehow, a few years later, she ended up in a master's degree program at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Just as she was getting dangerously involved with the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, she read Ruth Reichl's Le Cirque review. Next thing anyone knew, she had dropped out of graduate school.

    Since then, Betsy has written hundreds of food features and restaurant reviews for publications such as Gourmet, Epicurious.com, The Boston Globe, Boston magazine, and online city guides Sidewalk and CitySearch. She is a regular contributor to NPR Online's weekly food column, Kitchen Window.

    She has written on other topics for Natural Health Magazine, Entrepreneur, and Family Fun. Betsy lives outside of Boston with her husband, two kids, an aging but still rowdy mutt, any number of wilting or dying plants, and one (formerly) hardy betta fish (blue, now dead).

    ... Continue reading Blueberries with Berry Cream: Mama Cooks.

    Cambodian-ish Ribs


    BBlockRibs.jpg


    Our friend Jeff said these were the best ribs he's ever had. We're blushing (but skeptical).

    1 rack Niman Ranch ribs

    spice rub consisting of


    • 2 tsp. five-spice powder
    • 1 tsp. garlic powder
    • 2 tsp. onion powder
    • 2 tsp. sweet paprika
    • 1 tsp. lemon pepper
    • 1 tsp. salt

    Cut ribs apart, sprinkle with the rub and finish on the grill for 5-10 minutes.

    ... Continue reading Cambodian-ish Ribs.

    Molten Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Sauce


    ChocCakeBB.jpg


    Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate!



    Individual chocolate cakes warm from the oven, with the center gooey and fine, are my standby, my workhorse, my fabulous restaurant-quality dessert that most of my long-suffering friends have had more than once. In fact, I've made them so often that - I can't believe I'm saying this - even I'm sick of them. 



    
When I serve these I can't seem to stop myself from going on (and on) about how easy they are to make. What kind of a sick honesty compulsion would make me do such a thing? Learn from my mistake. Don't follow my lead. When your guests rave, you should just smile serenely and offer up a modest "Thanks." 



    
Sadly, for me, this recipe is almost at the end of its useful life, which happens when you overuse one perfectly excellent recipe. That's why it's time to pass it on, like a juicy secret or a gorgeous pair of pants that - ahem - no longer fit (possibly due to too many chocolate cakes). And so, I solemnly bequeath to you my very special, unoriginal, already published recipe for chocolate molten cake, otherwise known in our house as: Volcano Cake. 



    
May you eat it with as much joy, but not quite as much frequency, as my family and I have. 



    Volcano Cake 
Adapted from Todd English 



    
I found this recipe in The Olives Table (Simon & Schuster), which Todd English co-wrote with Sally Sampson in 1997. He didn't send this recipe to me personally, nor is it new, but I'm highlighting it anyway. That's how good - and simple - it is. 



    
The prep for this takes about 15 minutes, but the best part is that you can make the batter in the morning, or even the day before you want to serve it. (I bet you could even freeze it. I know you could.) Just take the filled ramekins out of the fridge an hour or so before cooking so they can come back to room temperature before you pop 'em into a preheated oven. 



    
(Yes, this recipe does indeed require the dreaded "ramekins," but at least there's no water bath. If you don't have any, it's worth buying them just for this one recipe, though, I promise.) 



    
Serves 6 



    
Butter and flour six 8-ounce ramekins. Then melt together in a double-boiler (or in a regular ol' pan if you're like me and can't deal with double-boilers): 


    • 12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I eyeball the amount and it's always worked out just fine) 

    • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter 

    
Set aside to cool. 



    
While that's all happening, place 

    • 1 cup sugar 

    • ½ cup all-purpose flour 

    • 6 large eggs (at room temp) 

    
in a large bowl and beat until thick and fluffy, about five minutes. Gently beat in the cooled chocolate mixture. Pour the batter into the buttered, floured ramekins until they're about ¾ full, cover with foil or plastic, refrigerate them, then go about your day, smug in the knowledge that you have something special up your sleeve. 



    
About an hour before you're ready to eat this luscious dessert, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and take the filled ramekins out of the fridge. Fifteen minutes before D-time, put them in the preheated oven. The amount of time they'll take to cook will vary depending on your oven, but you want them to be pretty darn puffy and rising above the top of the ramekins. (I love the word "ramekin." Ramekin ramekin ramekin.) Run a knife around the sides and turn them upside down to unmold. The outside should be a normal cake consistency, but the middle should be gooeylicious. Mmm. 



    
Serve topped with raspberries and a light dusting of powdered sugar, or, if you want to take it to the next level, serve it with raspberry sauce, which is not only gorgeous, it's perfect with the cakes: 



    Raspberry Sauce
    • 4 cups raspberries, fresh or frozen 

    • ½ cup sugar 

    • 1 to 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice



    
Place the berries and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring, over high heat. Boil until the sugar dissolves. Add lemon juice to taste and let cool. Voila - fancy sauce. Fancy dessert. You rock.



    Betsy Block grew up in Washington, D.C. She worked in catering companies and casual restaurants throughout high school and college. 


    
She spent a semester in Kenya during her junior year at Brown, graduating with honors in 1988. She then worked for a year at the renowned Harvest restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Somehow, a few years later, she ended up in a master's degree program at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Just as she was getting dangerously involved with the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, she read Ruth Reichl's Le Cirque review. Next thing anyone knew, she had dropped out of graduate school. 


    
Since then, Betsy has written hundreds of food features and restaurant reviews for publications such as Gourmet, Epicurious.com, The Boston Globe, Boston magazine, and online city guides Sidewalk and CitySearch. She is a regular contributor to NPR Online's weekly food column, Kitchen Window. 


    
She has written on other topics for Natural Health Magazine, Entrepreneur, and Family Fun. Betsy lives outside of Boston with her husband, two kids, an aging but still rowdy mutt, any number of wilting or dying plants, and one (formerly) hardy betta fish (blue, now dead).

    ... Continue reading Molten Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Sauce.

    A Womanly Beet Salad


    beetSaladBB.jpg

    By Betsy Block

    My (mom) friend C and I both loved this beet salad (made from local beets and Massachusetts-made blue cheese, only enhancing its already significant appeal), but neither of our husbands would touch it. 


    
Are there certain foods that men eat at the risk of seeming unmanly? If so, are beets and blue cheese among them? 


    
Sure seems like it from where I sit. But why? 


    
(BD: "I'll tell you why. Beets taste like dirt, and they make all other foods red. A man has his limits, and blue cheese is one of them." 


    
Oh, okay.) 


    

A Womanly Beet Salad
    
beets (5-6 medium)
    
blue cheese (a hunk)
    
toasted walnuts, chopped (1/4 cup)

    

good olive oil
    
Dijon mustard (tablespoon or so)
    
Good white vinegar
    
Salt and pepper to taste
    
Tarragon (teaspoon-ish)

    
Peel and roast some beets, multicolored if you have them. Cut them into cubes, do the same with the blue cheese (or crumble it), and put them both in a bowl with the walnuts. 


    
Whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients (4 parts oil to 1 part vinegar, more or less) and pour over the beet mixture. Gently stir until combined. 


    
What'll it take to get a man to try it? 


    
("If you batter it and fry it ..." 


    
"You still wouldn't try it." 


    
"If you're wearing just the right outfit ...")


    Betsy Block grew up in Washington, D.C. She worked in catering companies and casual restaurants throughout high school and college. 


    
She spent a semester in Kenya during her junior year at Brown, graduating with honors in 1988. She then worked for a year at the renowned Harvest restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Somehow, a few years later, she ended up in a master's degree program at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Just as she was getting dangerously involved with the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, she read Ruth Reichl's Le Cirque review. Next thing anyone knew, she had dropped out of graduate school. 


    
Since then, Betsy has written hundreds of food features and restaurant reviews for publications such as Gourmet, Epicurious.com, The Boston Globe, Boston magazine, and online city guides Sidewalk and CitySearch. She is a regular contributor to NPR Online's weekly food column, Kitchen Window. 


    
She has written on other topics for Natural Health Magazine, Entrepreneur, and Family Fun. Betsy lives outside of Boston with her husband, two kids, an aging but still rowdy mutt, any number of wilting or dying plants, and one (formerly) hardy betta fish (blue, now dead).

    ... Continue reading A Womanly Beet Salad.

    The Halloween Grinch (That's Me): MamaCooks



    by Betsy Block


    "Aren't you a little old for this?" the man asked.


    It was October 31, 1983. I was a senior in high school. Two of my best friends and I had decided to go trick-or-treating one last time, for nostalgia's sake. And for the candy.


    So there we were at 9 PM on some stranger's doorstep, lamely covered in sheets we'd pilfered from our parents' linen closets, greedily holding out pillowcases. We were about as tall as the man who answered the door, and two of us - my pals DK and E - had voices as deep. The man seemed annoyed with us - for all I know, we had woken up his own little trick-or-treaters - and he might even have been a bit nervous to see three not-so-juvenile ghosts on his doorstep.


    That was our last house of the night.


    The next time Halloween showed up on my radar, I was in my mid-twenties. With all the enthusiasm of the newly married but childless (and so still well-rested), I bounded down the steps each time the bell rang. I lasted about an hour before fatigue and boredom set in. How many tiny goblins can a person fawn over in one night, I wondered.


    Things got worse. I had a child. Until his second Halloween, his diet had mainly consisted of organic vegetables and hormone-free meat. Now I was supposed to teach him to knock on strangers' doors and beg for candy? I resisted as long as I could, but, caught up in a wave of peer pressure, I succumbed. His disbelief was matched only by his glee.


    The nadir came when my son was four and I was two months pregnant with our second child. Tired, nauseous and fed up, I had my husband take our son trick-or-treating while I stayed home "to rest." I turned the lights off and channel-surfed with the volume down. We left a bowl on the porch with a sign to "take two," like grumpy kid-haters do when they're not home on Halloween (or else are, ahem, faking it).


    Something had to change. I couldn't hide in a darkened room forever. My first line of attack was to win converts to my position. I offered the kids a buy-out plan, but my bid wasn't high enough. E engaged in some fierce negotiations, but I wouldn't budge. In the end, there were no takers. Next, trying to get in the spirit of things, I bought some spider web tights, but forgot about them until the elastic had already lost its bounce. Then I thought that maybe it would be fun to steal from my kids' stashes like all my friends do, but frankly, I couldn't get away with it; my kids' candy inventory system is so efficient, it could probably be patented.


    In one final, desperate attempt to make this holiday mine, I invited friends over for a festive meal. As I look back on that night, I realize I must have been possessed by the evil (and sarcastic) ghost of All Saint's Day. There's no other explanation for:


    Betsy's Spooky Dinner Menu


    • Black Cat, After the Accident (black bean soup in a roasted pumpkin)
    • Pumpkin Goo (tortillas with melted orange cheddar)
    • Monster Brains (guacamole)
    • Ghost Blood (salsa)
    • Mac 'n fleas (mac 'n cheese with poppy seeds)
    • Snowy slush (frozen orange juice)
    • Creepy Candy (from trick-or-treating)


    Black Cat Guts (Black Bean Soup in a Roasted Pumpkin)


    SERVING SIZE: serves six


    • six 2-lb. pumpkins (they'll be small enough to hold in one hand)
    • 1 lb black beans (if you get them pre-packaged, it's fine if you have a few ounces less)
    • 4 strips bacon, diced
    • 1 onion, diced
    • 2 stalks celery, diced
    • 3 cloves garlic, chopped or smashed
    • 2 quarts chicken stock, plus water as needed (we used two of those strange boxes that don't need refrigeration)
    • 2-3 Tbsp. tomato paste
    • 4 sprigs each fresh thyme and oregano (or 2 tsp. dried of each, or instead, 1 Tbsp. of cumin and/or a cup of chopped cilantro)
    • salt and pepper
    • 2 ears corn, kernels cut off the cob

    Preheat oven to 400.


    Cut off the pumpkin tops and clean out the seeds. Rub the insides of the clean pumpkins with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees for about an hour, or until soft. (To make kids happy, rinse the seeds, making sure to get rid of every last bit of icky pumpkin residue. Sprinkle them with salt and roast them on a cookie sheet next to the pumpkins at for about 15 minutes.) Fill with black bean soup:


    Cover beans with water (the water should come about 2" above the beans). Bring to a boil for two minutes, then turn off the heat and let the pot sit for a few hours until you're ready to cook. Drain the beans and rinse them with fresh water.


    Fry the bacon in a soup pot until crisp. Add the diced onion and celery; saute until soft, about five minutes. Add garlic; saute for just thirty seconds. Add the chicken stock, soaked beans, tomato paste, herbs, salt and pepper. Simmer for about two hours. Add more chicken stock or water as needed. Add the corn and cook for five more minutes.


    Betsy Block grew up in Washington, D.C. She worked in catering companies and casual restaurants throughout high school and college. She spent a semester in Kenya during her junior year at Brown, graduating with honors in 1988. She then worked for a year at the renowned Harvest restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Somehow, a few years later, she ended up in a master's degree program at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Just as she was getting dangerously involved with the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, she read Ruth Reichl's Le Cirque review. Next thing anyone knew, she had dropped out of graduate school.

    Since then, Betsy has written hundreds of food features and restaurant reviews for publications such as Gourmet, Epicurious.com, The Boston Globe, Boston magazine, and online city guides Sidewalk and CitySearch. She is a regular contributor to NPR Online's weekly food column, Kitchen Window. She has written on other topics for Natural Health Magazine, Entrepreneur, and Family Fun. Betsy lives outside of Boston with her husband, two kids, an aging but still rowdy mutt, any number of wilting or dying plants, and one (formerly) hardy betta fish (blue, now dead).

    ... Continue reading The Halloween Grinch (That's Me): MamaCooks.

    Unsavory Neighbors: MamaCooks


    crumble1.jpg


    By Betsy Block


    Four-year-old P came into the kitchen where BD and I were cleaning up. "Can I have another piece of candy?" she asked.


    I turned to her and said, indignantly, "Of course not! Dinner's in half an hour!" But then BD looked at me with both pity and censure and said, "They've already eaten all theirs." That would be nine-year-old E and his best friend M, who had, unbeknownst to me, eaten all their candy while playing cards in the other room. Turning to our daughter, BD gently said, "Yes, honey, you can have another piece, but only one."


    At first I was ready to march in there and let the boys have it for eating all that candy. Then, realizing I was on tenuous moral ground, I shrugged and turned back to the dishes. What did I expect after buying the boys candy and gum cigars, then setting them up with chips and cards for a nice, cozy afternoon of poker?


    I blame it on Mother Nature.


    Fall in New England is the ne plus ultra when it comes to old-fashioned Yankee fun. Look to your left and see 100-year-old agricultural fairs. Look to your right and there are more apple picking festivals than you can count. Look ahead and see fairs, parties and cookouts. And everywhere, like weeds in a garden, there are pumpkins, scarecrows and gourds.


    This year, much to the entire region's dismay, it rained for most of the fall. And so, as we often do when under duress, we resorted to the lowest common denominator. We invited E's best friend M over for the day and plied the boys with just enough coffee, candy and poker to make the day go by a little faster.


    Have we become the people you fear your own kids will befriend? I wondered about this when M emotionally said, "I only really live when I'm with you." It could have been love, but then again, it could have been the caffeine speaking.


    It's public record that I lie to my own kids, but I seem to have taken a turn for the worse by starting to urge other people's children to lie as well. When M happily exclaimed, "I had coffee today for the first time!" I nervously replied, "Let's keep that our little secret, okay, M?" Then I hastened to add a jocular, "Just kidding!" But I wasn't. We adore M. When we have him for the day, life is better. Never mind that M's vegetarian parents who both work for nonprofits don't even let him watch TV. We must have access to the boy, even if it involves a little bait and switch.


    Here were my thoughts: So M had had a little coffee and a bit too much candy before dinner. So he'd learned how to gamble at our house. That was hours before drop-off. I came up with a plan to erase all unsavory memories from his mind: the most wholesome vegetarian dinner in the world. Homemade vegetable soup with homemade sourdough rolls. Chocolate milk from a local dairy. And hot-from-the-oven fruit crisp, using apples we'd picked at a farm. (Grown using integrated pest management, naturally.) Our strategy was, when BD took M home: focus on dinner.


    A couple of months later, I was starting to get nervous - we hadn't seen M since the Day of Coffee and Gambling. Maybe my plan hadn't worked after all. But finally, I heard from his dad - inviting E and me to play pool with them.


    That's when I realized: Most of us start out with the highest of standards, and then watch as they precipitously erode, day after exhausting day. By the time M was expertly chalking up his cue and asking if I wanted to break, I knew we were home free.


    Wholesome Fruit Crisp
    By Tony Maws, chef/owner of Craigie Street Bistrot in Cambridge, Mass. (and one of Food & Wine's Best New Chefs of 2005)


    Topping

    • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
    • 1/2 cup Demerara sugar (natural, unrefined brown sugar available at Whole Foods and in most specialty shops)
    • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
    • 1/2 lb butter - softened
    • pinch of salt
    • 1 1/2 cups toasted chopped walnuts


    Sift first four ingredients through a sifter. Work the butter into mix a little bit at a time. Gradually add the walnuts.


    Notes: Yields about 7 cups of topping, enough for about three 8x8" crisps. Store in fridge for up to a week. Substitute any light brown sugar for Demerara if necessary.


    Crisp


    • 2-3 pears
    • 2-3 apples
    • ¼ cup dried cherries or cranberries
    • ½ c. vanilla sugar (or regular sugar)
    • 1 tsp. Calvados (optional)


    Dice unpeeled fruit into ½" cubes. Toss with dried fruit, sugar and Calvados. Put in 8x8" pan. Sprinkle with 2 and ½ cups of the crisp topping. Bake at 350 for an hour to an hour and a quarter.


    Alleviates guilt like a charm.


    Betsy Block grew up in Washington, D.C. She worked in catering companies and casual restaurants throughout high school and college. She spent a semester in Kenya during her junior year at Brown, graduating with honors in 1988. She then worked for a year at the renowned Harvest restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Somehow, a few years later, she ended up in a master's degree program at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Just as she was getting dangerously involved with the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, she read Ruth Reichl's Le Cirque review. Next thing anyone knew, she had dropped out of graduate school.

    Since then, Betsy has written hundreds of food features and restaurant reviews for publications such as Gourmet, Epicurious.com, The Boston Globe, Boston magazine, and online city guides Sidewalk and CitySearch. She is a regular contributor to NPR Online's weekly food column, Kitchen Window.

    She has written on other topics for Natural Health Magazine, Entrepreneur, and Family Fun. Betsy lives outside of Boston with her husband, two kids, an aging but still rowdy mutt, any number of wilting or dying plants, and one (formerly) hardy betta fish (blue, now dead).

    ... Continue reading Unsavory Neighbors: MamaCooks.

    Popcorn: MamaCooks


    We start with Alton Brown's brilliant microwave recipe sans pesky hidden carcinogens:


    • One brown paper bag
    • ¼ cup popcorn
    • 2 tsp. olive oil

    Put the popcorn and olive oil in the bag, seal with a piece of tape, microwave on high for three minutes.


    The Super Sweet Version


    Make:
    1 batch of popcorn
    Melt:
    stick of unsalted butter with
    cup brown sugar


    Slowly pour the butter mixture over the popcorn, tossing as you go. Add a dash of salt to take the edge off the cloying sweetness.


    The Slightly Spicy, or Should We Say "Soulful" Version (even though after tonight there won't be any spicy or soulful singers left standing -- or sitting)


    Make:
    1 batch of popcorn
    Melt:

    • 1/2 stick of unsalted butter with a few shakes each of:
    • garlic powder
    • onion powder
    • cayenne
    • paprika
    • thyme
    • mustard powder
    • and lots of salt

    And in case neither of them is your pick, how about
    The Cheesy Version
    Make:
    1 batch of popcorn
    Melt:
    ½ stick of unsalted butter


    Grate:
    1/4 to ½ cup cheese (Parmesan, Cheddar, American, etc.)
    Coat all the popcorn with the melted butter then bit by bit, toss in the cheese. Add salt as needed.

    Betsy Block grew up in Washington, D.C. She worked in catering companies and casual restaurants throughout high school and college. She spent a semester in Kenya during her junior year at Brown, graduating with honors in 1988. She then worked for a year at the renowned Harvest restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Somehow, a few years later, she ended up in a master's degree program at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Just as she was getting dangerously involved with the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, she read Ruth Reichl's Le Cirque review.

    Next thing anyone knew, she had dropped out of graduate school. Since then, Betsy has written hundreds of food features and restaurant reviews for publications such as Gourmet, Epicurious.com, The Boston Globe, Boston magazine, and online city guides Sidewalk and CitySearch. She is a regular contributor to NPR Online's weekly food column, Kitchen Window.

    She has written on other topics for Natural Health Magazine, Entrepreneur, and Family Fun. Betsy lives outside of Boston with her husband, two kids, an aging but still rowdy mutt, any number of wilting or dying plants, and one (formerly) hardy betta fish (blue, now dead).

    ... Continue reading Popcorn: MamaCooks.