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    Strawberry Shortcake

    While we’re not quite at that time of year here in Maine, it is that time … STRAWBERRIES! I love strawberries just hulled and sliced with a bit of sugar and balsamic vinegar. Though I have made Dark Chocolate Strawberry Ice Cream and Strawberry Limeade, if I had to add strawberries to a recipe, my all time fav would be Strawberry Shortcake.

    When Fantastical Food Fight announced April’s spatula down to be Strawberry Shortcake I was delighted! I changed up my Grandmother’s Biscuits a tiny bit to make them sweet, not savory and simply sliced up some strawberries and let them macerate for a while.

    Traditionally you would serve these beauties with whipped cream. I have not been able to bear the sight of schlag on my food since … well, let’s just say, Vermont, a loss of power, whipped cream and a pumpkin pie. Gives me the willies just thinking about it!

    Hopefully by the time you read this any threat of snow will be gone … I’m pretty sure I heard that rotten weatherman say the dreaded S word this morning!

    Biscuits:

    • 2 C all-purpose flour
    • 1 T baking powder
    • 1/2 t salt
    • 3 T sugar
    • 1 stick butter, chilled
    • 2/3 to 3/4 C half and half

    Strawberries:

    • 1 quart strawberries
    • 1/3 C sugar
    • 1 T Balsamic

    If you want the ooky whipped cream:

    1 1/2 cups whipping cream for topping, or non-dairy whipped topping

    NOTE: Try to use the best balsamic possible. Not everything you buy in the supermarket is anything close to traditional balsamic. If you want to treat yourself to something wonderful, try the Traditional Balsamic from Fiore. Their products are really great … stay tuned for an ice cream with their Amarena Cherry Balsamic!

    Rinse the berries under cold water; drain well. Hull and slice the berries; place in a bowl. Sprinkle with the sugar and balsamic; cover and let stand at room temperature for about 1 hour.

    Whip the cream (sweeten with 2 or 3 tablespoons of sugar, if desired) until it holds a soft peak. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

    Preheat the oven to 425.

    In a food processor combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar and pulse to mix. Cut butter into about 8 pieces and add to the mixture. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal, but with few pea-size chunks of butter left in the mixture. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and make a well in the center. With a fork stir in the cream, just until dough is moist.

    NOTE: Be very careful not to overwork the dough. The dough doesn’t hold together well at this point, but let the dough stand for a minute, and magic happens.

    Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Fold the dough over on itself (knead) 2 or 3 times, until it is holding together and is less sticky.

    Gently pat the dough into a 6 by 12-inch rectangle about 3/4-inch thick and cut into 8 (3-inch) biscuits with a floured round cutter. Transfer to a buttered foil-lined cookie sheet. Brush on a little milk or cream and sprinkle tops with some sugar, if desired. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until risen and golden brown.

    Split each biscuit horizontally. Top with about 1/3 cup of berry mixture. Replace the tops and top with a tablespoon or so of berries. Serve with whipped cream for topping.

    Serves 8.

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    Maple Ice Cream with Wet Walnuts and Maple Caramel Sauce

    While we all believe that finding friends, keeping friends, nurturing those friendships is hard – well, it is, actually. Trust can be hard. Still liking those people once you get beyond the ‘isn’t it great we both like Chinese food’ phase doesn’t always happen. It can happen, though.

    There are THOSE friends – knowing you can be out of touch for months, years, and one look, one smile, one hug, one phone call, and time melts away as though the last time you saw or spoke to each other was yesterday. Those long time friendships – like The Dear One and I, knowing each other since the 6th grade – those are the people who know you the best. They knew you before you built those walls, before life tainted you, before you became jaded. Was life perfect, no? Were we perfect, no? But we truly were more innocent and perhaps that’s why those friendships are so easy and lasting.

    I am lucky enough as an adult (well, really not, much like Peter Pan I won’t grow up) to have a few friends I would throw myself on the gauntlet for … you know who you are so I’m not naming names. You know, those people you would move heaven and earth for if they asked … and move it twice as much when they don’t ask, that is usually the time they need you the most.

    The Dear One, who admittedly is reclusive, has a few of these friends. Long time – 30 year friendships. Friends who I am very grateful for, as they have taken me into their hearts as though we have known each other for that long as well. I am grateful for each and every one of them (there could be a few more gals in the mix, but hey, they’re all great!) Sadly, this week, we lost one of those dear, special men. Charlie and The Dear One bonded instantly – much time on islands, playing with birds, counting stars, drinking, talking about life, women, family, heartache, future. The Dear One would and has many times, dropped whatever he was doing for Charlie – and Charlie the same in return. It didn’t matter when the last time they saw each other was – when they were in each other’s presence, no time had gone by. Charlie’s new bride, Mona, and I became friends instantly. Charlie and Mona were married a month before The Dear One and I – little did we know, he was ill even then – we celebrated at each other’s weddings.

    Charlie’s passing has made us realize how tender life is, how precarious, how precious. How petty bullshit and slights that no one can even remember need to be put aside, and why friendship and love needs to stand in the foreground, shining like a beacon. A beacon that guides you to those who will always love you, always welcome you, always be there to catch you when you fall, always look past your perceived inadequacies. A beacon that rings out, ‘I am your safe harbor, always’. We all really need that, don’t we?

    We have celebrated Charlie’s life with friends – more than once and will continue to do so … A LOT (a lot of whiskey is usually involved).

    One of these celebrations involved dinner with two dear friends that we have spent far too little time with of late. Why? Who knows. Should it be? No. Sometimes being the first person to blink is really hard. Then no one blinks and you sit around missing that person(s) and cannot figure out how to get it back. Sometimes time just goes by and that just becomes a norm – not one anyone likes or wants but just is.

    Charlie’s passing put us in and on the same path again. It was wonderful. Giggling. Stories. Great food. Great friends. Hopefully we will not wait so long to do it again. I have missed them BIGLY. Thank you, Charlie.

    You are reading this wondering what does this have to do with Maple Ice Cream with Wet Walnuts and Caramel swirl? Well, I’ll tell ya … I needed to bring something to this wonderful dinner and I’ve been jonesing to make this ice cream. So I did and I did – and it was FAB-ulous!

    The Dear One had suggested maple ice cream, remembering trips for ice cream on Block Island, going so late in the day or evening that the only thing left was maple ice cream. I would always walk away instead of having maple ice cream. It always looked so … TAN!

    But this would be made with OUR own maple syrup, and what if I make some wet walnuts with maple syrup, and – WAIT! – What if I add a caramel swirl – OOOOHHH! A maple caramel swirl!

    The ice cream is delicious. The wet walnuts are gooey (but not too gooey) and salty. The maple caramel swirl? Well, it’s good, but I need to come up with a different way. I substituted the maple syrup for the water and it is not soft and ribbon-y, but tough and tooth breaking. Still ‘can’t eat enough’ delicious!

     

    • 1 1/2 C whole milk
    • 2 T sugar
    • 1 1/2 C heavy cream
    • 5 large egg yolks
    • 3/4 C dark maple syrup
    • 1/4 t coarse salt
    • 1/4 t vanilla extract
    • Wet Walnuts (recipe follows)
    • Maple Caramel Swirl (recipe follows)

    Warm milk and sugar in medium saucepan.

    Pour cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top.

    In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then pour the warmed egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan.

    Stir the mixture constantly over medium-low heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir. Stir until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula.

    Pour the custard through the strainer and into the cream to cool.

    Add the maple syrup, salt, and vanilla, and stir over ice bath until cool. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator – at least 3 hours.

    Freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. During the last few minutes of churning, add the Wet Walnuts.

    Wet Walnuts

    • 1/2 C, plus 1 tablespoon dark maple syrup
    • 1 1/2 C walnuts, toasted and very coarsely chopped
    • 1/4 t coarse salt

    Heat the maple syrup in a small skillet or saucepan until it just begins to come to a full boil.

    Stir in the walnuts and salt, and cook until the liquid comes to a full boil once more. Stir the nuts for 10 seconds, then remove them from the heat and let cool completely before using. The nuts will still be wet and sticky when cooled.

    NOTE: This will look like WAAAAY too many to put in the ice cream, but after you have nibbled a few here and there – wait, no, actually it’s the perfect amount!

    Maple Caramel Swirl

    • 6 T Sugar
    • 1/2 C heavy cream
    • 2 T Maple Syrup

    In a clean, dry, nonstick skillet, sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over medium heat. When the sugar begins to melt and lightly color, sprinkle in 2 more tablespoons and start swirling pan to help evenly distribute sugar. Add the final 2 tablespoons and cook, swirling pan until all the sugar has melted. Let cook, swirling occasionally, until the sugar syrup caramelizes and turns dark brown. Pour in the heavy cream and 2 tablespoons maple syrup (stand back; it may splatter).

    Simmer, stirring with a heatproof rubber spatula until smooth. Cool completely.

    NOTE: When I made this caramel swirl in my Rhubarb Ice Cream with Caramel Swirl, the 2 tablespoons of maple syrup was 2 tablespoons of water. The water kept this swirl from becoming too hard – you know, too much sugar (as if!). The maple doesn’t lend much here flavor-wise, so next time it’s back to the 2 tablespoons of water and keeping my fillings.

    Now, to put it together –

    Spoon about 1/3 of the caramel mixture into whatever container you are using to freeze the ice cream in in the freezer. Then 1/3 of the ice cream mixture and repeat, ending with the ice cream. Cover and put in freezer until solid. Mine took overnight.

    Meat and Potato Skillet Gratin #Sunday Supper

    This may be one of my favorite Sunday Suppers. I love nearly everything with ground beef in it. I have been dying to try this recipe, so I was thrilled when Em from Sunday Suppers posted this week’s Dinner Ideas with Ground Beef.

    Best thing about this dish? It’s a one pan dish. There’s a lot of steps and prep, and it takes a long time to cook, but once you get going it’s a snap – unless you’re like me and start fixing dinner too late and end up eating at 8:00.

    It’s hearty, but not heavy. I didn’t think a pound of ground beef was enough. Seemed the potato to filling ratio wasn’t quite enough.

    Make sure you use a big enough pot to reduce the heavy cream or else you’ll end up like me – having your way to nice Dear One scrubbing the stove top!

    This gratin reheats well, so you can make it ahead and reheat it uncovered in a 350-degree oven.

    • 4 garlic cloves
    • 1 C heavy cream
    • 2 thyme branches
    • 2 T finely chopped fresh sage
    • 1 T extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
    • 1 pound ground lean beef
    • 3/4 t kosher salt, more as needed
    • Black pepper, as needed
    • 1 C thinly sliced onion
    • 3 ounces baby spinach (3 packed cups)
    • 2 t Worcestershire sauce
    • 1 pound russet potatoes
    • 4 ounces Gruyère, grated (1 cup)

    Crush and peel 2 garlic cloves. In a small pot over medium heat, combine cream, the crushed garlic, the thyme and 1/2 tablespoon sage. Bring to a simmer; cook until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 30 minutes. Strain and cool.

    While cream cools, heat oil in an ovenproof 10-inch skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-high heat. Add half the beef and brown well, crumbling with a fork as it cooks. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper; transfer meat to a paper-towel-lined plate. Repeat with remaining meat, 1/4 teaspoon salt and the pepper.

    Add onion to pan drippings (drizzle with oil if pan seems dry). Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender and golden, about 10 minutes. Peel and chop remaining 2 garlic cloves; add to pan with remaining sage. Return meat to skillet.

    Toss in spinach, a handful at a time, until wilted. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt, the Worcestershire and pepper to taste.

    Heat oven to 350 degrees. Peel potatoes and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds.

    Layer half the potato slices over meat, with slices overlapping one another. Season lightly with salt and pepper; top with half the cheese. Repeat with remaining potatoes and cheese. Spoon reduced cream evenly over top.

    Cover pan tightly with foil and bake until vegetables are very tender, 60 to 75 minutes. Uncover and cook until golden brown, about 10 minutes more. Cool 10 minutes before serving.

    4 to 6 servings

    Dinner Ideas Using Ground Beef

    Sunday Supper MovementThe Sunday Supper Movement is committed to bringing our readers delicious recipes that encourage them to gather and eat together around the family table. Search for your favorite ingredients on our Sunday Supper website. Also check out the Sunday Supper Pinterest boards for plenty more ideas and inspiration.

    Would you like to join the Sunday Supper Movement? It’s easy. You can sign up by clicking here: Sunday Supper Movement.

    Buttered Rosemary Dinner Rolls #SundaySupper

    Another Sunday … another Sunday Supper Movement. This week hosted by Christie at A Kitchen Hoor’s Adventures. Stop by and check out her blog … scroll to the bottom and check out all of the Easy Easter Side Dishes

    It doesn’t get easier than these dinner rolls!

    When I have a large group over for a holiday – last Easter there were 12 of us – I try to simplify my menu as much as humanly possible. If you know me, that’s not easy!

    But, as I’ve gotten older, I’d like to think I’ve gotten wiser … at least about cooking! I used to have elaborate menus with fabulous, but complicated recipes. I’d be in the kitchen all day and a good portion of the time once my guests arrived. Dinner was fabulous, but I was exhausted and my kitchen looked like the Swedish Chef had cooked dinner.

    Now, I try to add in a few things (well, as many as possible) that can be made or prepped in advance.

    I sit and make a menu with a shopping list next to it, and next to that timing. If I can’t make the timing work something on the menu has to change.

    These dinner rolls are a savior! So easy and quick and because of the embellishments on top, it’s hard to know you did not bake them from scratch. I think this recipe came from Ree Drummond, but I don’t remember. Sorry!

    • 15 frozen, unbaked, un-risen dinner rolls
    • Melted butter
    • Coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
    • Coarse sea salt

    Place the dinner rolls in a large lightly buttered skillet, allowing some space between the rolls. Cover with a dish towel or cloth napkin and set aside in a warm place to rise for at least 2 to 3 hours.

    When risen, the rolls should be poufy and soft. Brush melted butter onto the rolls. Then sprinkle the rolls with chopped rosemary and sea salt.

    NOTE: I have also sprinkled thyme on the rolls. You can change up the herbs to whatever suits your fancy or menu.

    Bake (as instructions on the packet – usually 400 degrees F) for 15 to 20 minutes.

    NOTE: When you take them out of the oven they’re really puffy – sometimes over the top of the skillet. Once you let them sit for a few minutes they deflate a bit.

    Serve hot.

    Easy Easter Side Dishes

    Enticingly Easy Sides

    Scrumptious Salad Sides

    Sunday Supper MovementThe Sunday Supper Movement is committed to bringing our readers delicious recipes that encourage them to gather and eat together around the family table. Search for your favorite ingredients on our Sunday Supper website. Also check out the Sunday Supper Pinterest boards for plenty more ideas and inspiration.

    Would you like to join the Sunday Supper Movement? It’s easy. You can sign up by clicking here: Sunday Supper Movement.

    Tuscan Chicken & Vegetable Stew

    I have to say from the outset that there is a lot of chopping going on here. A LOT. It was one of the things that almost kept me from trying this recipe.

    You read – I’ll chop …

    My new dear friend, mentor and cruise ship guru, Chloe, was making this one day while we were working at her home. (CHOP, CHOP, CHOP) Her house was filled with the most wonderful aromas. She assured me that this recipe was easy  … especially if you buy a rotisserie chicken. She gave me the recipe and looking at it, I still wasn’t sold. CHOP, CHOP

    Chop this. Chop that. Chop that other thing. Oh, yeah, and chop that thing over there, as well. And not just the Swedish Chef inspired chopping that I usually do … chopping so things are the same size. UGH! Not my forte.

    The next day, while we were working (yes, I spent a tremendous amount of time at her house), we sat and had this stew for lunch. Well, hush my mouth and pass my chopping knife! You could have added 7 more ingredients to this and I would have chopped away. (Well, not really)

    Chop … chop … chop …

    I acquiesced and tried it at home. This makes a HUGE pot of stew – which is good when you hate chopping neatly as much as I do. The Dear one and I had this for dinner one night and had 3 containers for the freezer. Some toasted bread and a green salad and you’re set on a chilly evening.

    So, Chloe … I went on an interview for a job as a tour guide. I was very content to sit on a tour bus with cruise ship passengers riding around Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island. Tour over, passengers leave, count your tips, done. Chloe and I hit it off instantly. You know, that rare, kindred spirit vibe you find only a few times in your life, if you’re lucky. During this interview, Chloe mentioned that she wanted to retire after the 2017 season. The next thing I knew – and I’m not quite sure what she saw in me, maybe it was my silliness in actually being willing to take the job – she was training me to take over her job when she retired. (chop, chop, chop)

    It was terrifying at first. So much information. So many moving parts. I would sit next to her, day after day, in utter awe at all the information in her head. Her ease with the most difficult people (myself included) was grace personified. Her innate ability to take the most difficult of scenarios, turn it around and make it seem like there was never an issue.

    I am sure many people who began the conversation all fired up had no idea how she managed turn the situation around, or perhaps didn’t even notice that the situation was turned around. She calls this the “please, pass the butter” voice. (I’m still working on that.) It was inspiring.

    But, aside from training me – mentoring really – adopting a bit – for this job of many facets … wait, I’ll explain. Does anyone remember the old Ed Sullivan Show? There was a fella on the show, quite often actually, who had many thin bamboo poles. He would start spinning plates on these poles and run around the stage, watching the plates, jiggling the poles, spinning plates, keeping all the plates up in the air. That, in a nutshell, is my job.

    Sorry, digressed … aside from mentoring me in this difficult transition, she became a dear friend. She and her darling husband Scott (and the dearest Lucy) fed me, wiped my tears, picked me up from the ground when I was at my lowest, taught me, guided me, became my family, laughed with me, drank wine with me at the end of a frustrating day, sighed with me, and guided me through a frantic summer and fall.

    On one of my worst days – I had made at least a billion mistakes – I had stepped away and there were tears streaming down my face. Scott came over, wiped them away and said, “Do you think Chloe has never made a mistake? Chloe has made more mistakes than this. Learn from them. Make new ones. And don’t let anyone see you crying.”

    I am truly grateful to Chloe for so much … more than I can ever possibly express, more than my heart and head can hold at times. It’s that rare type of symbiotic friendship where words are not always necessary, giggles and laughing are ever present, compassion is a given, forgiveness always there, and life is so much richer with them in it.

    Thank you so much, dear woman, for all you’ve done for and given me.

    Anyway, enough mush …

    Every time I make this soup, I think of sweet Chloe and miss the stuffin’ out of her! Hmmm, maybe I should give her a call while I’m chopping freakin’ vegetables …

    I joke about the chopping, but there is a lot. But once that’s done, that’s really it – jut add ingredients and stir. The apple cider vinegar gives it a layer of flavor that brings everything together.

    • 1 tablespoon oil
    • 3 tablespoon butter
    • 1 medium onion, diced
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 3 cups chopped carrots
    • 3 cups chopped celery
    • 1 large zucchini, chopped
    • 1 sweet red bell pepper, chopped
    • ¼ cup flour
    • 4 cups chicken broth
    • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
    • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
    • 1 (19 oz.) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
    • 1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes, undrained
    • 1 cup diced cooked chicken breast (I used rotisserie)
    • 1 cup fresh spinach leaves, chopped
    • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
    • salt and pepper to taste
    • fresh parsley
    • parmesan cheese

    In a large pot over medium high heat, add the butter and olive oil. Add in the onion, garlic, carrots, and celery and saute for about 4-5 minutes, until tender and fragrant.

    Stir in the zucchini and red pepper and cook for another 2 minutes until slightly softened.

    Sprinkle in the flour to create a roux and cook for another minute. Slowly add 1 cup of the chicken broth while continuously stirring until it starts to thicken and comes together. Then slowly pour in the remaining chicken broth.

    Stir in the Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, beans and entire can of tomatoes.

    Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add the chicken and reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for 25-30 minutes.

    Stir in the spinach and cider vinegar and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes or until everything is heated through.

    Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve hot with fresh parsley and parmesan cheese, if desired.

    Ravioli di Ricotta

    Insane. I am telling you I am insane. Perhaps certifiably insane.

    Those of you who know me well are reading this and nodding your heads in agreement. I know. I have come to terms (mostly) with my insanity and am beginning to embrace it – as a southern woman would, gardening in big ugly hats, drinking see tea and having many cats. Being in Maine ones insanity eccentricity comes in a slightly different form – Bean boots, Allen’s Coffee Brandy (honestly, I have never had it and never will) and making maple syrup.

    When I gear up for the winter, I fill our house with wonderful ingredients, the Dear One fills it with firewood, I hang the window quilts I made, and I scour recipes for projects. Recipes I might not have as much time on my hands to try when the sun is shining and we’re puttering in the garden or working way too hard.

    This particular project started with a birthday gift from my dear husband – a pasta maker. We made fettuccine and spinach fettuccine – a dessert pasta may be on my list.

    And while this kept us occupied for a while, we wanted more. I have been making ravioli with my Mama for most of my life. She will undoubtedly say you only started helping in your 20s, but at this point in time, and at my age, that IS most of my life.

    I have ravioli forms that my mother gave me and they’re great, but I thought … we have this machine there must be an attachment to make ravioli. And there was! When my in-laws asked what we’d like for Christmas, without hesitation, we both said – a ravioli attachment for our pasta machine!

    It’s obviously taken some time for us to get to this point. I would look at it. It frightened me. I walked away. It sat staring at me, taunting me, daring me to try making ravioli with this machine.

    It snowed. I was bored. HEY! Let’s make ravioli!

    First the filling:

    • 1 pound fresh ricotta, drained if wet
    • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
    • 1 t freshly grated lemon zest (from about 1/2 a lemon)
    • 1 C freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
    • 1 large egg
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

    In a large bowl combine the ricotta, nutmeg, lemon zest, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and 1 egg. Season to taste with salt and pepper, stir well, and set aside.

    Now the difficult part, the ravioli dough:

    • 3 2/3 C all-purpose flour
    • 2 large eggs
    • 2 egg yolks
    • 1 T olive oil (optional)

    Mound the flour on a clean work surface and create a well in the center. Place the eggs, egg yolks, and oil (if using) in the center. Using a fork, whisk the eggs and oil together and slowly start dragging the flour into the egg mixture. Knead by hand until all the ingredients are well combined and the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.

    (Alternatively, place all the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. With the mixer on medium speed, knead the dough until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.)

    NOTE: I was seriously lazy. I used the stand mixer. THIS SUCKED. No, really. It was terrible. I finally got it to the right consistency, but it took forever. More flour, more water, more oil. No more lazy.

    Wrap the dough in plastic wrap or place it in a covered bowl and let it rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

    Set up a pasta machine and turn it to the largest opening. Cut off pieces of dough about the size of an egg. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll the dough into sheets about 1/8-inch thick.

    NOTE: You start at zero, and with each pass through you raise the number. We went to #6

    Lay 1 pasta sheet flat on a lightly floured work surface and determine approximately where the halfway point is lengthwise.

    Lay the pasta dough in the machine, folded edge on the roller, with the dough lying on either side of the machine. Turn crank 1/4 turn to start dough feeding.

    Put the filling shoot into the machine and crank slowly. Keep adding filling as you crank the dough through the machine. Repeat and repeat.

    Let dry for 10-15 minutes and pull the ravioli apart and boil right away or let dry completely and freeze.

    The easiest way to do this is roll a sheet and fill – roll a sheet and fill – roll a sheet and fill.

    NOTE: Okay. These are the prettiest photos. The beginning part of this process was hell. Rolling the pasta sheets was difficult. Filling? Can’t even talk about it yet. But I keep finding filling in my hair. I used a ravioli/pasta/pastry cutter to help separate the ravioli.

    I’ve gone through all the trouble to make this ravioli, I need the perfect sauce. I scoured the internet and came across this sauce from Giada De Laurentiis. Her dish and ravioli was different, but I found the sauce intriguing.

    • 6 T unsalted butter
    • 2 T balsamic vinegar
    • 1/2 t salt
    • 1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/3 C toasted, chopped walnuts
    • 1/4 C grated Parmesan

    Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the ravioli and cook, uncovered, at a gentle boil, 2 to 3 minutes, until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally. Drain ravioli.

    While the ravioli is cooking, in a medium sauté pan melt the butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When the foam subsides, and the butter begins to turn a golden brown, about 3 minutes, turn off the heat. Let cool for about 1 minute. Stir in the balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.

    Transfer the ravioli to the pan sauté pan with the balsamic brown butter. Gently toss. Sprinkle walnuts and cheese over the top. Serve immediately.

    Maple Syrup

    Before I start … dear friend, dear, dear friend, I can see you from here, pixie with the flame red hair, hanging your head and groaning. This certainly falls under the ‘Ernie Wonders Why!?’ category. Read on …

    Maine winters are tough. And long. And cold. Long and grey. Long and dreary. Did I mention long?

    This winter has been particularly harsh. Though, truth be told, the harshness started at the end of FEBRUARY! You know, that point in the winter season when snow should be melting, wistfully waiting for the first crocus to peer it’s little head out of the ground. This winter NOT SO MUCH.

    We have had nor’easter after nor’easter dumping FEET of snow at a time.

    This is the point in time when we look outside, seeing nothing but snow, we try to find some project to occupy ourselves. I’ve knit enough. I am cooked out (HA!), crafted out. The Dear One has made enough noise and dust in the shop and is at a stopping point in construction.

    We thought our salvation had come while running errands in Vermont a few weeks ago, we saw a maple syrup making kit. Light bulbs went off, eyebrows raised, glances shared, this may just be the thing to beat the winter blues. Did we buy it? NO! It was expensive. They didn’t have taps, just tubing, and we left that big box of hope on the shelf. Disappointment all around. The thought of tapping our own trees kept rolling in our minds on that quick 8 hour drive home.

    Maple Syrup. Maple Syrup. What did (maple syrup) you say, dear? Maple Syrup. What do we need (maple syrup) from the store. Would you like chicken (maple syrup) for dinner tonight? See?

    We finally had a (short) reprieve from the bitter cold … actually crawled up to 40! Hmmm … sap runs on warm days. Honey, says the Dear One, let’s give maple syrup a whirl! YAY!

    Off to the store I went and we purchased 1 drill bit, 4 pails for gathering the sap, 4 spiles (taps with hooks), 1 lid, 3 disposable lasagna pans, 1 very large steam pan, 1 5 gallon bucket.

    The Dear One built a fire pit outside for the fire, gathered some wood for the fire – we used various conifer trees that we had cut dow, surely we’re not using the wood for the wood stove for this! Just outside the front door there is a cinderblock base, with a piece of grating on top, a pan on top of that, an old chair from the elementary school, various coolers filled with varying amounts of sap. It looks like Appalachia out there … or a war zone …

    Ready, set, go!

    Or so we thought.

    We picked the 4 maple trees for their closeness to each other, the fire and the house. In hindsight, trees easier to get to in case you get walloped with 2 feet of snow is probably a good thing. 2 of these trees involved a short walk up the driveway, across a gully with a steep edge and slogging.

    The Dear One drilled the holes and we hung the pails. Sap started dripping into the buckets almost immediately. The lid in the above photo is not ideal, though it will happily be sold to you for ridiculous amount of money. The wind blows it open. Falling snow and ice shifts the lid. The disposable lasagna pans I bought can be moulded to the pail and stay in place much better – and they cost $1.99 for 3 of them.

    So, as the sap drips we kept an eye on the pails. We emptied the pails into the bucket – as you can see, Bob helped too!  As an aside, just as we were about to begin to boil – WHAM – snow. We poured the sap into 3 small coolers and one large cooler, put them in the shade in a snow bank and hunkered down – again!

    Next step – build a fire. You need dry wood. Lots and lots of dry wood. Lots and lots of dry wood. Our first attempt at fire didn’t work so well. So bad in fact, that sap was going to be dumped and things were being kicked around the yard. We decided to give up and be prepared for this next year. But just as I was about to start cleaning out ALL the coolers, buckets, pans, etc., The Dear One had a Wylie Coyote moment and found a cache of dry spruce and built a roaring fire. Well, perhaps we were off to the races after all!

    You pour the sap into the pan. It’s a little disheartening. It’s clear. It’s water. It tastes like nothing. I was hoping for a hint of something. A soupçon. Nope. Nothing. Sigh. You know you’re going to be feeding this fire for a long, long time, you just hope the end result looks and tastes more like maple syrup than this beginning.

    And you wait for a boil (and drink beer).

    And feed the fire.

    And wait for a boil (maybe Allen’s Coffee Brandy is better).

    And feed the fire.

    And wait for the boil (where’s the bourbon).

    Suddenly, in between your 3rd or 4th time of feeding the fire (and drinks) the sap boils! You start to do a dance around the fire reminiscent of Max and the Monsters in The Wild Things. It boils down, you add more sap, comes to a boil (dance some more), it boils down (feed the fire), you add more (sip of drink) sap, comes back to a (dance, dance, dance) boil, feed the fire (almost forgot that for a moment and the fire NEARLY went out), AND REPEAT many, many times (wait, check the pails some more)!

    You’re waiting – well, in our case, to use up the sap we had on hand – for a color and a certain viscosity and, truth be told, we have NO clue whatsoever what we’re waiting for – perhaps Godot).

    We punted. It was cold. It had been HOURS. All our sap was in the pan boiling. There were no more snacks or beer. The sun was setting. We made the executive decision that this was good enough. It most likely should have boiled longer.

    Now you pour the molten hot sap/syrup through a strainer that is really just a gigantic coffee filter and into a big pot. Did I mention hot? Hot fire. Hot pan. Hot liquid.

    Into the house now for the 2nd boil. You’re trying to get to a soft ball stage – or as one of Mr. Google’s friends said – 7 degrees above boiling water for your elevation. Really? Just give me a number, a temperature. I’m exhausted. At this point, I hate this project. I hate maple trees. I smell like Smokey the Bear. I’m nearly blind from the smoke and soot in my eyes. AND THERE’S STILL MORE TO DO!

    This sap/syrup needs to be boiled down more. You want that amber color. You want it to coat the back of a spoon. You want to watch it like a hawk – as the friends of Google instructed – because one second too long and your 8 hours of agony could be ruined. As with the outside boil, this probably should have gone on a bit longer as well.

    Not being able to stop myself, I made my toil linger. I decided once I reached the right temperature and thickness, I was going to then ‘can’ the syrup so it would last. I’m not sure I needed to do this and there are opposing views on whether this step was necessary, but I thought why tempt fate!? And besides, at this point I am delirious and I could have moved Cadillac Mountain to Canada as long as I could shower!

    In the end 20 gallons of sap made 3 pints of maple syrup. Sigh! Stop laughing, Ernestine.

    What we’ve learned:

    • Have lots of dry wood.
    • Make sure the Dear One has had plenty of sleep.
    • Make sure there’s a lot of beer and snacks.
    • Start early.
    • Get two chairs to sit by the fire – not that you can figure out where to put the chairs so smoke doesn’t go in your eyes.
    • More beer (a suggestion by the Dear One)
    • Build a sugar shack!
    • Let it boil outside longer
    • Let it boil inside longer
    • GO TO THE STORE AND BUY MAPLE SYRUP!!

    Yes, Ernie, I know. They sell real maple syrup in the store. Even my Dad said, have you heard of Log Cabin?

    Truthfully, nothing beats this taste! The flavor is totally worth the agony.

    We’re waiting for it to warm up a bit. We’re going to do this one more time. What can I tell you? It must be like child birth. You forget the pain and agony. If you didn’t why would people do these things more than once!