Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year!! Welcome 2018!

Happy Holidays, everyone.
Sending you and yours wishes for a happy year filled
with health, prosperity, love and loads of fun!

Thank you for visiting ~
Hope to see you throughout 2018!
~ Margaret

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Anna Sultana’s Fettuccine Alfredo and January’s Two Full Moons

The Twelve Days of Christmas season has just begun. The broadcasting of dozens of mass-produced, made-for-TV Christmas-themed movies has finally ended.
Most of them were interchangeable - a woman has a problem, gets stranded at a quaint motel in a really cute town, saves the hotel and / or the town, and finds the love of her life.
Just a bit of visual prozac to get us through the holiday baking and chores.

Then there were a few movies that I enjoy seeing during December.

One of my favourites is The Holiday, a 2006 American romantic comedy filmed in California and England, starring Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Jack Black.
If you missed it, the two women have romantic problems, swap homes (one is in California, one in England) for two weeks during the holiday season, and find the loves of their lives. 
Yeah, I know, the plot is pretty similar to the interchangeable ones, but, trust me, it’s way better.
And the houses… pure house porn!

Toward the end of the movie three of the stars sit down with a plate of fettuccine to help them cope with life’s problems.
I know I’ve often said cheesecake can solve many of life’s problems.
But sometimes, especially on a cold winter night, it helps if the cheese is served warm and with carbs.
And what could be warmer or carbier than a nice plate of Fettuccine Alfredo?

About five years ago I posted a fettuccine recipe.
Fettuccine is another type of pasta, similar to linguine, a wider cousin of spaghetti.
Yes, the Italians have invented a lot of pasta types.
Different strokes for different folks.
Try something new or not - suit yourself.

Fettuccine was a regular part of the menu in our house when I was a kid.
But Ma just tossed the cooked fettuccine with butter and Parmesan cheese. 
Nothing complicated, nothing to write down.
I mean, who writes down the recipe for buttered bread?

Then the aunts told Ma about Fettuccine Alfredo, the fancy version, with heavy cream and other stuff.
Of course each aunt had her own version, thickening with eggs, flour or sour cream.
After a while, Ma did, too.

Back to that movie, The Holiday.
I don’t know what exactly Cameron Diaz or Kate Winslet and Jack Black were eating.
It could’ve been the basic pasta with butter and cheese, or it could’ve been pasta with a cream-based sauce.
Whichever, they felt better after eating it.
And, whichever version you choose, you’ll feel better, too.


If you prefer to use margarine or a parmesan cheese blend, no problem.
These recipes also work with 2% or skim milk.

If you want a stronger Parmesan taste, add 1/4 to 1/2 Cup more.

The sauce will thicken as it cools.
If you find the sauce is too thick, stir in a small amount of milk or pasta cooking water to thin it.

if you want to make this more of a meal add one to two cups of hot cooked shrimp or cooked, sliced chicken.

Oh, that fettuccine recipe I posted five years ago was
Carmela Soprano's Fettuccine Primavera - Fettuccine and Vegetables in a Cream Sauce
It can be made any time of the year. Really.

                        Fettuccine Alfredo 

Serves 6

In a large pot place
4 quarts water
salt to taste
Bring to a boil.
1 pound fettuccine
Cook, stirring frequently, until the pasta is al dente.
Drain and return to the pot.

Alfredo Sauce

Place in a heavy bottomed medium sized saucepan
3 Tablespoons butter
Melt over medium heat.
2 garlic cloves, minced
Stirring, fry for 1 minute.
Stir in
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 Tablespoons flour
Stir until smooth.

Add, 1/2 Cup at a time, stirring well after each addition
2 Cups milk
Increase heat to medium high. Cook and stir until it is bubbling and thickened, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low. 
Stir in 
1/2 Cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 teaspoon dried basil (optional)
Cook for 1 -2 minutes, until cheese is melted.
Stir in 
1⁄2 cup sour cream (low-fat is fine)
Dip a spoon into the sauce to taste. Adjust the seasoning if needed. 
If you want a stronger Parmesan taste add more to and continue to stir.
Cook until heated through.
Pour sauce over fettuccine and toss to coat.

                        Fettuccine Alfredo - light
Serves 6

In a large pot place
4 quarts water
salt to taste
Bring to a boil.
1 pound fettuccine
Cook, stirring frequently, until the pasta is al dente.
Drain (reserving some of the water), rinse and place in a large deep platter or bowl.

Alfredo Sauce

Place in a heavy bottomed medium sized saucepan
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
Melt over medium heat.
Stir in
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 Tablespoons flour
Stir until smooth and the mixture turns a pale brown.
Add, 1/2 Cup at a time, stirring well after each addition
2 Cups milk
1/2 Cup grated Parmesan cheese
Stir until the cheese melts in and the mixture is smooth.
Dip a spoon into the sauce to taste. Adjust the seasoning if needed. 
If you want a stronger Parmesan taste add more to and continue to stir.
Cook over medium heat, stirring until the sauce becomes thick. Once thickened remove from the heat. 
Pour the sauce over pasta and mix well.
Serve immediately.

About the sky, thanks to the folks at The Farmers' Almanac…

January 1 - The January Full Wolf Moon will be this year’s largest Supermoon.

January 31 - January’s second full moon, the Blood Moon, is also called a Full Blue Moon. There will also be a total Lunar Eclipse.

February will not have a full moon this year. Just the way it worked out.

March 1 - March’s first full moon is the Full Worm Moon. 

March 31 - March’s second moon is called a Full Blue Moon. 

April will have a full moon. Yes, we'll be back to normal.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Merry Christmas!!

Happy Holidays, everyone.
Wishing you all the blessings of the season.

Wishing you and yours 
a Christmas filled with all you hold dear
and a New Year filled with all the best!

Thank you for visiting ~
hope to see you again in the new year!
~ Margaret

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Anna Sultana’s Jan Hagel Cookies, The Ursid Meteor Showers and the Winter Solstice

December is just zipping along.
I mean, in just two weeks Christmas will be here!

Oh, my…  Two weeks before Christmas!
Say that to a kid and he’ll envision a chunk of time about as long as a century.

Say it to his Mom and she’ll swear it’ll go by faster than a sneeze.
Especially if she belongs to a club or two and just found out there’s going to be a potluck, or if Sonny Boy brought home a note saying he needs a few dozen cookies for a ‘Holiday Party’ at school.

Christmas or Holiday, it means the same thing, work-wise.
Good old Mom has to add something else to her ‘To Do’ List.

Okay, this is not the time to get all fancy, unless of course you're the type who loves doing things at the last minute.
For most of us a good, simple, easy to do, cheap recipe is what is called for.
It’s time to make some Jan Hagel cookies.

Jan Hagel cookies were a regular Christmas treat in New York when I was growing up.
It was a traditional Dutch recipe that everybody knew, so, if you brought some to school or to a gathering, nobody gave your cookies the fisheye.
Everybody just grabbed a couple and said “Merry Christmas!!”
None of that politically correct ‘Holiday Party’ crap in the 1950s.

Ma might have gotten the recipe from a co-worker or a neighbour.
Of course, she made her own variations.


About the pan: use a 15 1/2″ by 10 1/2″ by 1″ or whatever you have. 
If you prefer thin cookies you might need a second pan. Some people made very thin cookies (about an 1/8th of an inch) which bake up crispy, some preferred thicker, softer ones. Suit yourself.
The thicker cookies need a bit more cooking time, about 5 to 10 more minutes.

Back in the 1950s nobody seemed to have nut allergies.
But this is now, and if you want to play it safe, leave out the nuts.
You could also sprinkle rolled oats on top of the cookies instead of using nuts.
If you’re not worried, some finely chopped walnuts or pecans would also work, especially if that’s what you have on your shelf.

Dutch kandij is the traditional sugar to use to decorate Jan Hagel cookies.
Yeah, well, if your local store doesn’t carry them (most likely it won’t), don’t panic.
If you want to go to the trouble, you can make your own:
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper. 
Place in a saucepan
1/2 Cup sugar  
Melt over a high heat. Do not stir. When the sugar is a liquid, pour it as thinly as possible onto the foil or parchment. The sugar will harden. Once cooled, chop it. 
As the cookies bake the larger pieces will remain, while the smaller ones will melt. 

Ma just sprinkled regular sugar on her cookies.
Some of her friends used brown sugar.
In the 60s some used coarse sugar in the raw.
Again, suit yourself.

Here are a few other easy Christmas cookie recipes:

                        Jan Hagel Cookies 

Grease a baking pan or use parchment paper        
preheat oven to 350º           

Place in a large bowl
1 Cup butter or margarine, softened
1 Cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract (optional)
Beat untill creamy.

Gradually stir in
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 Cups flour
Mix well.

Place the dough in the greased pan.
Place plastic wrap or wax paper that a bit larger than the pan over the dough.
Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough evenly in the pan. Or you can use your fingers.
Lightly score the dough with a fork into square or strip shapes (optional). 

In a small bowl place
1 egg white 
1 Tablespoon water
Beat until frothy.
Brush the egg mixture over the dough.
Sprinkle with
1/2 Cup sliced almonds
Dutch kandij (see hints), or crystallized or regular sugar
Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until very lightly browned. 
Remove from oven and, using a sharp knife, cut immediately into squares or strips. 
Leave them on the pan(s) to cool thoroughly so they don't lose their shape.
These cookies taste better when they are thoroughly cooled.

About the sky for the rest of December, thanks to the folks at The Farmers' Almanac

December 18 - New Moon at 1:30 a.m. The Moon is completely invisible to the naked eye. Incidentally, this new moon ushers in the longest lunar month of the 21st century (2001 to 2100). A lunar month is the period of time between new Moons. The New Moon is at apogee, its farthest point from Earth in its orbit. Need an easy way to remember? (A)pogee = (A)way.

December 20-23 - Nature’s annual holiday light show, the Ursid meteor showers, are at their peak. Visible from the north all night, these meteor showers generally produce anywhere from 5 to 15 meteors per hour at their peak (usually on the first full night of winter, Dec. 22).  They are the dusty debris left behind in the orbit of Comet Tuttle. There have been a few occasions when the Ursids have surprised observers with a sudden outburst many times their normal hourly rate (over 100 per hour in 1945), but such cases are very few and far between.

December 21 - Winter officially begins at 11:28 a.m. with the Winter Solstice. The Sun reaches its farthest point south of the celestial equator so it’s the shortest day of the year in terms of sunrise to sunset. The good news is that the days will start getting longer from here!

December 29 - Before sunrise, look to the southeast sky to see Mercury (hugging the horizon), Jupiter, higher in the sky, and Mars directly above Jupiter.

December 30 - The Moon occults Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation Taurus.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Anna Sultana’s Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake, December's Full Cold Moon and the Geminid Meteor Showers

Christmas will be here in three weeks!!
That’s right… 
We’ve got about three weeks to get EVERYTHING done.

The main thing is, don’t panic.
You’ve done it before, and you’ll do it again. I believe in you.
Take a deep breath, make a list, and do your magic.

While you’re writing that list, take a minute and enjoy a slice or two of cheesecake.
Ah, Cheesecake! 
Is there any problem that can happen to any woman, at any age, that can’t be helped by a slice of cheesecake.


If you have a pumpkin sitting in the kitchen, why not make some pumpkin purée? 
It’s easy. Really. 
Cut up the pumpkin and remove the seeds. Don’t forget to save them for roasting. 
Preheat oven to 375° F
Place the pumpkin pieces on a large baking pan, and cover them with foil or a lid. 
Bake for one hour or until very tender. 
Remove the pan from the oven, and set aside to cool. 
Scrape the cooked pumpkin’s interior off of the rind and into a food processor and purée until smooth. Just compost or toss the rind.

For a bit of variety you could make a pecan crumb crust: 
1 1/4 Cups crushed gingersnap cookies or graham wafer crumbs
1/4 Cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 Cup margarine or butter, melted

Check cheesecake doneness by gently shaking the pan. 
If the cheesecake is done, it will be set except in the centre that will be soft. 
Do not insert a knife into the centre - that could make the cheesecake crack during cooling. Still edible but not as pretty.

Want to make the cheesecake in a 9x13-inch pan to serve as small dainties?
No problem.
Line the pan with foil, with ends of foil extending over sides. 
Prepare the cheesecake batters, then spoon into the prepared pan and swirl. 
Bake in a 350° F oven 35 minutes or until centre is almost set. 
Cool completely. Refrigerate 4 hours. 
Use foil handles to lift cheesecake from pan before cutting to serve.

Have a bit of pumpkin purée left over?
Consider yourself lucky.
Pumpkin is a popular ingredient in Maltese cooking, especially in vegetable soups.
Pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie are also great any time.
As are other cheesecake recipes.

                        Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake 

Place the oven rack in the middle of the oven.
Butter a 9 inch springform pan.
Wrap the exterior of the pan in a double thickness of aluminum foil.

The Crust

Preheat the oven to 325º F

Combine in a small bowl
1 1/4 Cups graham wafer crumbs
1/4 Cup sugar
1/4 Cup margarine, melted 
Press the mixture over the bottom of the prepared pan.
Bake 10 minutes.
Remove and place on a wire rack to cool.

The Filling

Combine in a large mixer bowl
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 Cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat at medium speed until smooth.
Add, one at a time
3 large eggs  
Mix well at low speed after each egg is added.

Combine in a small bowl
1/4 Cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Set aside.

Bring to a boil
about 3 Cups water

Place in a small bowl
1 Cup pumpkin (canned or cooked and puréed)
Stir in the sugar / spice mixture.
Remove 3/4 Cup of the mixture and set aside.

Pour the remaining pumpkin mixture into the crumb crust in the pan.
Top with the cream cheese mixture. 
Drop by spoonfuls the reserved pumpkin filling over the top of the filling.
Cut through the filling with a knife to swirl the filling. 

Preheat the oven to 350º F

Place pan in a large baking pan, and add 1 inch of hot water to the larger pan. 
Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the centre is just set. The top should appear dull. 
Remove the springform pan from the water bath. 
Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. 
Carefully run a knife around the edge of pan to loosen.
Cool 1 hour longer, then refrigerate overnight. 

Remove sides of pan. 
Serve with 
whipped cream
Sprinkle with nutmeg (optional)

About the sky this week and next, thanks to the folks at The Farmers' Almanac

December 3 - The December Cold Moon will be astronomically full at 10:47 a.m. E.S.T. This Moon will also be considered a supermoon because it coincides the closest with perigee (December 4). 
Of the year’s 12 full moons, only December’s full Moon comes close enough to Earth (222,443 miles or 357,987 km) to be considered a true supermoon.
Learn more how this month’s full Moon got its names in this short Farmers’ Almanac video: December's Full Cold Moon    

December 4 - The nearly-full waning gibbous Moon is at perigee, its closest point to Earth in its orbit.

December 7 - Earliest sunset of 2017 at 40º N. latitude. This comes come some 2 weeks before the winter solstice, not on the solstice as you might think!

December 8 - Look eastward after midnight to see the waning gibbous Moon paired up with the star Regulus. Regulus will be sitting above the Moon.

December 11-13 - Bundle up for the annual Geminid Meteor Showers! These showers will peak on December 13th. Normally one could expect up to see up to 120 meteors hourly with this display, but the Moon’s brilliant light will likely obliterate all but the very brightest meteors. Regardless, they’re considered the best meteor showers of the year and it’s worth taking a look.
The radiant - that spot in the sky where the meteors will appear to emanate - lies just below and to the right of the bright star Castor in the constellation Gemini (hence the name, “Geminids”). Best viewing after midnight when the radiant point is high in the sky, until dawn, no matter where you are.