Berried in Pumpkin


For all its warmth, silky smashed pumpkin, mildly spiced and tucked into flaky crust, might as well be classified as health food.

No matter how plentiful the turkey and Brussels sprouts, there’s always room for a velvety slice topped with whipped cream or served a la mode. Few Thanksgiving hosts challenge the pastry’s status as a given for holiday spreads which is how the traditional pie will manage to keep its place on our table this year, even as we break from family custom and add another dessert — pumpkin cranberry bars.

Minimized fresh cranberries

Fresh cranberries

Combining pumpkin with cranberries brightens any dish with splashes of crimson. Sweetened dried cranberries offer convenience, but they don’t do a baked good justice. A baking occasion calls for the fresh plump sort, the kind that make baked goods pop with color along with bits and pieces of tarty-sweet fruit and skin.

Pick up fresh cranberries just about everywhere this time of year, packaged in small bags at many local markets including Foodtown. Organic cranberries are also available locally, and Beacon Natural Market carries them in the fresh produce and freezer sections. If you’re cooking for one or two, a bag of berries goes a long way, but if you’re feeding the neighborhood, stock a supply to last the rest of the year. For those with a true cranberry crush … Beacon Natural Market is offering their own fresh organic cranberry sauce spiked with orange and a medley of spices.

To modify my own holiday menu, I’ve adapted a pumpkin bar recipe with the fresh berries and chia seeds. When I set out to include the seeds, I didn’t intend to create a superfood to overshadow the pie. I unexpectedly found myself with a supply of raw seeds on the doorstep — in a box from Amazon. One of my kids received a birthday gift from family friends and when the gift giver closed out his online shopping cart, the gift and a 2-pound bag of chia seeds were on the way to our address. Once discovered, there was no chance of redirecting the seeds to their rightful recipient, a master when it comes to blending morning smoothies with yogurt, fruit and chia seeds.

Minimized chia seeds

Chia seeds

Beacon Natural Market carries a selection of chia products ranging from vacuum-packed seeds to miniature single-serving packets in seed and ground form. Kitty Sherpa, market co-owner with her husband LT Sherpa, said the store stocks many brands and quantities of the tiny chia seeds, which according to the Mayo Clinic, date back to ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations as a dietary staple.

“The health benefits of chia have become popular over the last 10 years,” Kitty Sherpa said. “It’s high in protein and fiber and provides omega-3 fatty acids. It’s also high in antioxidants and a good source of calcium, magnesium and copper.”

With their healthy reputation, I couldn’t bear to let the seeds age on the kitchen counter, and they’ve been making their way into brownies and biscuits. When chia seeds sit in liquid for a short time, the combination thickens and takes on a gelatinous form that folds into batters just as naturally as eggs with a much lower dose of fat and cholesterol.

“With chia coming into prominence,” Kitty Sherpa said, “for things like baking, as an egg replacer, it’s a great way to use it. And it has such a mild flavor that it’s almost a hidden ingredient.”

Minimized pumpkin barsIt may take more time for chia seeds to land on the average shopping list and pumpkin bars could never replace pumpkin pie, but cranberries — packed with their own nutritional benefits — remind us to count our blessings, sweet and savory.

Cranberry Pumpkin Chia Bars

Yield: 3 dozen bars

1 ¾ cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups mashed pumpkin (use sweet sugar pie pumpkins or canned pumpkin)

½ cup canola oil

¼ cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

*2 tablespoons chia seeds

*½ cup water

3 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed and dried

½ cup butterscotch chips

Choose a 3- to 4-pound sugar pie pumpkin. Cut pumpkin in half and remove seeds (save seeds for roasting). Place split pumpkin on baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Cool. Scoop out pumpkin and mash or puree.

In a small bowl, add water to chia seeds. Let stand 10 minutes and stir. Seeds and water will take on a gelatinous consistency. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, combine chia seed mixture, pumpkin, oil, buttermilk and vanilla. Add to flour mixture, stirring just until moistened. Fold in fresh cranberries and butterscotch chips. Pour into a greased jelly roll baking pan or cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the surface bounces back from touch. Cool completely and cut into single-serving bars.

*In place of chia seeds and water, substitute 2 beaten eggs.

By Mary Ann Ebner, first published by

A Toast to France

Cool fall weather marks the perfect time to toast France with a hearty meal and a glass of red wine.

Minimized Perfect Potatoes Make these creamy bistro potatoes.

I’m toasting our hosts in Paris for their fabulous hospitality. Merci!

Jarring jam … why small-batch jam tastes best

Small-batch jam from Coyote Kitchen

Small-batch jam from Coyote Kitchen

Preserving fabulous fruits results in the best jams and jellies. Lynne Goldman of Coyote Kitchen doesn’t overlook any of the fine produce of the Hudson Valley when she makes her small-batch products. When there’s little time to make your own, sample a jar of artisan jam by slathering it on a cracker, using it as a glaze or folding it into a simple cake. Check out the jam lady and this recipe for blackberry jam cake.

Make it a pasta supper night

Some say beware of pasta while others shy away from bacon. This pasta supper dishes up a little of both.

Mushroom bacon pasta

Mushroom bacon pasta

Modify it to meet your needs and make this pasta tonight.

Lunchbox Okra

Okra adds a tasty texture to lunch.


Okra pieces and pods

Okra pieces and pods

A lunchbox went missing around the house over the summer and nobody seemed to notice. Who inventories these things anyway? They’re usually tucked into the cabinet that spills over with reusable water bottles and storage containers. In our small kitchen where we put every inch of cabinet space to use, it’s often advisable not to open the doors too quickly lest you risk spending a few minutes pushing items back into place.

With September on its way and the back-to-school routine approaching, it was time to search the kitchen. Younger kids may advance a grade with a new lunchbox to match their maturing personalities, but our older sons were definitely set to reuse the lunchboxes we purchased before the start of last school year. Searching the kitchen high and low proved helpful in recovering a box of filters for the water pitcher and a stack of misplaced storage lids, but it was otherwise a waste of energy. No red lunchbox to be found. It had made its way out of my son’s backpack sometime in early June, but managed to find a concealed spot to rest for the entire summer. He finally found the lunchbox stashed under a stack of papers and notebooks under the desk in his bedroom, and when he handed it over, he also passed a warning of what was still zipped inside: a thermos, his food jar that keeps a host of edibles hot or cold. I couldn’t guess what had been packed for lunch a couple of months back, but when I removed the lid from the vacuum-insulated jar, I found the remains of a steamed broccoli and onion medley accompanied by a predictably powerful stench.

The experience hasn’t turned me away from packed lunches, and a thermos makes it easy to vary the menu with rice, beans and even chilled fruit salads. Having moved beyond the lasting odor in the found thermos, it may still be too soon to pack broccoli for the back-to-school lunch break this year, but okra steps up as another mid-day meal that holds its form and flavor in an insulated container.

The vegetable — fabulous in a home-cooked gumbo, brushed with olive oil and grilled or starring in a curried Indian stew — adds a tasty texture and crunch to lunch. Okra tends to fall into the slimy category with all its glutinous properties, and that’s one reason why it thickens soups with a creamy consistency. Cooking okra quickly on high heat near the end of a recipe’s preparation can help minimize the stickiness of many varieties. If slime still poses a challenge, try throwing the okra pods in a water bath diluted with vinegar for 10 minutes (but pat dry before cooking) to keep the okra from becoming stickier in texture once pods are cut into pieces.

Crusty fried okra from Cold Spring's Round Up Texas BBQ

Crusty fried okra from Cold Spring’s Round Up Texas BBQ

If you’ve been to Round Up Texas BBQ in Cold Spring, chances are you’ve sampled their crispy deep fried okra. They sell it as a traditional Texas side dish — breaded and fried to a golden brown and served steamy hot. It’s hardly possible to stop in without trying a serving (or two). Whether dredging okra in cornmeal, spiking it with Creole seasoning or breading pods with buttermilk and flour, the vegetable can stand alone. It also shows off its versatility as an addition to casseroles or pan-seared and used as a salad ingredient. I haven’t tried to replicate Round Up Texas BBQ’s okra and don’t plan to anytime soon. It’s a rare treat to indulge in deep fried foods, and we make it a family outing to drop in and order their crusty okra when our home kitchen closes.

The okra recipe shared here lets the vegetable stand out while the backdrop of eggs makes it a meal. Scrambling the eggs with crumbled crackers produces a hearty base to allow the vegetables to shine. With crackers folded into the mix, there’s not much need for additional salt, so only add salt to your liking.

Lunchbox okra

Lunchbox okra

Try the dish for brunch and if you prefer a version with a little kick, add a splash of salsa picante to the egg and milk mixture before scrambling. There’s truly no need for cheese — call it done as is — but a sprinkling of shredded sharp cheddar finishes the combination perfectly with a rich result. No guarantees, but the lunchbox thermos will probably come home clean.

Lunchbox Okra

Servings: 4

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 cups saltine crackers, crumbled

5 eggs

¼ cup milk

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon chili powder

pinch of kosher salt (optional)

5 cups fresh okra pods, cut in ¼-inch to ½-inch pieces

½ cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

Mix dry ingredients. Set aside. Lightly beat eggs and milk in shallow dish. In a frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon canola oil over medium heat. Add egg mixture to pan and scramble 2 to 3 minutes. Add dry ingredients, mixing thoroughly, and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from pan and keep warm. Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan and cook okra pieces on high heat 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Return egg mixture to hot pan and mix with okra. Serve immediately or spoon into a lunchbox thermos and enjoy later.

First published at Paper

Cook On: 1 part chaos, 2 parts calm

By Mary Ann Ebner


Break out this tomato pie a la vodka

If red-ripe tomatoes and a humble pie recipe succeed in their temptation, be prepared to reach for bottles of the good stuff, a fine bottle of extra virgin olive oil and a reputable bottle of vodka.

A few key ingredients ...

A few key ingredients …

You’ll want both of a decent quality to make tomato pie a la vodka.

A Southern-ish tomato pie sampled on an evening cruise up and down the Hudson and a not-so-light (but dripping with flavor) penne a la vodka side dish shared at a summer reunion inspired this hybrid conception. The pie served on the boat ride was made by a Southern gentleman who knows his way around the kitchen. When he shared the origins of his tomato pie discovery, he gave a good deal of credit to his father-in-law who had introduced him to the dish. What he discovered along the way when doing a little Google research of his own was that the family recipe looked remarkably similar to a variation by the celebrity Southerner Paula Deen. With his kitchen and relationship wisdom, he elected not to take the findings back to the family — his wife’s or Deen’s.

To preserve the traditional tomato pie for the Southern cooks who know how to put the right amount of flake in a recipe, an adaptation of my own credits all who’ve created a variation of some sort, whether with mayonnaise, a mild Gouda or creamed butter. Anyone can layer tomatoes and smother them with an assortment of cheeses and herbs, which makes a hybrid pie a good choice for putting the best of summer’s tomatoes to use.

A serving of creamy vodka sauce adds an extra-heavy layer of calories to anything it sits on, and that’s probably why it tastes great over everything from piecrust to pasta. To experiment with my own vodka sauce, I couldn’t find a drop of basic vodka on hand, as in a bargain brand. The limited release Ultra Luxury Stoli vodka (not readily available for sale in the U.S.) — elegantly bottled and recently hand carried by a friend returning from Latvia — was off limits. The pie prep called for a shopping trip. Without help from Russia or even Poland, the recipe needed something all-American. But before I could even make it in the house with a full bottle of Tito’s Handmade Vodka, produced in Austin, Texas, one tap of the Tito’s bottle resulted in a shattering crash of glass and spirits all over the stairway. For the record, no sampling of the distilled product had yet occurred. It’s certain that the scene actually looked pretty funny, then it didn’t — when my hand (still gripping the neck of a broken glass bottle) started bleeding … in three places. My lack of coordination often presents itself at inopportune times.

With a replacement bottle of vodka firmly in hand (while cautiously keeping my balance), I eventually set out to experiment with the sauce. I did end up substituting the splashed-away Tito’s Vodka with an even choicer option (Grey Goose) and didn’t risk touching the Stoli reserve bottle. My first batch needed to be cooled down for the mix of preferences in the family, so I eliminated hot red pepper flakes and dipped in to a supply of roasted Spanish paprika, which added the ideal blend of mildly smooth and smoky flavor to the sauce.

Jet Stars on the vine

Jet Stars on the vine

From my modest garden, Jet Star tomatoes produced the best-tasting crop at home this year. They matured earlier than expected but were able to vine-ripen before the squirrels and woodchucks moved in covertly to harvest them. The meaty fruit of the Jet Stars holds up firmly when sliced for a pie. If you’re buying tomatoes to slice for a similar pie, search for a large plump variety. A selection of enormous juicy tomatoes that I picked up in the Catskills worked well for firm slices and one hefty tomato filled a pie dish.

Without the expense of an entire bottle of distilled beverage, tomato pie a la vodka makes an affordable and simple meal. The pie combines ripened garden treasures with a sweet and tangy cream sauce that brings on even more tomato flavor. Served sliced on a plate, layered on a pizza or tucked into a flaky pie crust, there’s no better time to appreciate tomatoes.

By Mary Ann Ebner

First published: Cook On: 1 part chaos, 2 parts calm

The Paper/

Wedge of tomato pie a la vodka

Wedge of tomato pie a la vodka








Tomato Pie a La Vodka

Yield: 8 servings

For a single layer crust

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup lard or shortening

3 tablespoons icy cold water

Mix dry ingredients and gradually cut in lard with two table knives. Add water by the tablespoon to mold together, handling as little as possible. Work dough into a ball and roll thinly on lightly floured surface with rolling pin. Carefully roll your dough back onto rolling pin and lay dough over pie pan or deep dish. Bake crust for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from oven and set aside.

For the vodka sauce and filling

1 large or 2 medium tomatoes, sliced

2 medium tomatoes, diced

2 cloves garlic, diced

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

¼ teaspoon sea salt

¼ teaspoon smoked paprika

¼ cup vodka

½ cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons flat parsley, chopped

2 cups shredded Parmesan cheese

  1. In heavy pan, sauté garlic in extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add diced tomatoes, sea salt and smoked paprika. Mix in vodka and allow mixture to cook for 5 to 10 minutes while continuing to stir. Stir in heavy cream, lower heat and cook while stirring an additional 5 minutes.
  2. Layer tomato slices into half-baked piecrust. Pour sauce over tomatoes. Add layer of chopped parsley and top with shredded Parmesan cheese.
  3. Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool and serve.

Fresh and Floral

With a hint of its natural aroma, lavender brings a fragrant goodness to foods and drinks. The dreamy ingredient in many varieties shows off a purplish flower with greenish-gray foliage and, in even the smallest quantities, stretches a long way in the kitchen. The versatile plant adds a unique flavor to everything from hot herbal teas to salad vinaigrettes and waffles.

Culinary lavender

Culinary lavender

Though baked goods flavored with lavender have long accompanied my morning cup of coffee, I hadn’t seriously considered the herb’s refreshing qualities as a cold beverage enhancer. But basic lemonade makes the case. While I was away in Colorado this summer, I sampled a splashy lunch-time variation with friends. The serving of lemonade dressed up with lavender, lavandula angustifolia, quenched a table full of tired hikers with its soothing properties. The herb’s distinction gave the drink a little edge without overwhelming the lemony base.

Discovering a source close to home means there’s more lavender to be shared in the warm weeks ahead. Ellen Duffy-Taylor, owner of North Winds Lavender Farm in Pawling, New York, carries the scent of lavender with her from farm to market. During the outdoor market season, she offers her lavender products — craft and culinary — every other weekend at the Cold Spring Farmers’ Market (her upcoming market participation dates include Aug. 8 and Aug 22). Local consumers are turning to her culinary lavender not only for cooking and baking but to mix up flowery cocktails from martinis to cosmos.

“People are actually using my lavender to make lavender lemonade and a lot of bartenders are using the syrup for cocktails,” Duffy-Taylor said. “Culinary lavender is very popular. We have one whole culinary field producing lavender that is edible and it’s naturally grown. We’re not certified organic, but we don’t use pesticides or herbicides.”

In addition to a selection of craft lavender and aromatherapy products, North Winds Lavender Farm sells its lavender syrup, lavender shortbread cookies, culinary lavender buds and jellies at the Cold Spring Farmers’ Market. The rich jellies pair well with cheese and transform toast into a breakfast feast while the syrup complements pan-seared meats, fish and steamed vegetables. The culinary buds include a mix of English and French lavender.

“We sell (culinary lavender) by the cup, half cup or quarter cup,” Duffy-Taylor said. “Selling by the pound at the market is just crazy. For people who are cooking, a cup is usually adequate.”

Lavender lemon cookies

Lavender lemon cookies

My favorite lavender lemon cookie recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of crushed buds and the measurement adds plenty of presence — introducing a subtle fragrance before the first bite. The lemon and lavender work together and the end result is a rich but-not-too-sweet confection. High-grade culinary lavender is traditionally strong, and too much in any recipe, whether in sauces or baked goods, may overpower food with an overly perfumed accent. Using the fragrant flowers sparingly saves a cook from having to start over and will, in the end, reduce costs. Considering that little is needed in any creation, the harvested lavender flowers are affordable. One cup is priced by North Winds Lavender Farm at $12 and is sold in several increments. For any savory or sweet dish, use lavender moderately to experiment with the herb.

Duffy-Taylor has been farming for 18 years and 2015 marks her 10th year in the lavender business. She’s been making the same lavender shortbread cookie recipe with all natural ingredients for years, and the fragrant baked goods will soon be available beyond the farmers’ market.

“I’m opening a store in September,” she said, “on Charles Colman Boulevard (in Pawling) right on the main drag. It will include everything we sell at the farmers’ market.”

To make something softly scented — out of your ordinary repertoire — pick up a little lavender. The lavender lemon cookie recipe shared here produces a delicate floral flavor. If you haven’t used lavender, incorporate a pinch in a familiar recipe. If you like the result, move on to a slightly more generous amount to adjust the taste for your preference. For further adventure, try lavender syrup (North Winds offers syrup in 8-ounce bottles for $7) mixed up with your favorite gin or infuse vinegar with lavender stalks and flower heads.

By Mary Ann Ebner, Cook On: 1 part chaos, 2 parts calm

First published by The Paper/Philipstown dot info

Lavender Lemon Cookies

Makes 3 dozen cookies

1 stick softened butter, unsalted

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg

1 tablespoon crushed lavender buds

1 ½ cups flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup course or decorative sugar

  1. Grind lavender buds with a mortar and pestle. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, cream together butter, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla extract. Mix in egg. Add ground lavender and mix until smooth.
  3. Combine flour, baking soda and salt. Fold into butter mixture. Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes.
  4. Drop dough by the spoonful onto ungreased baking sheet. Flatten dough balls lightly with the bottom of a small glass. Sprinkle with course or decorative sugar.
  5. Bake 8 to 10 minutes at 350 degrees until cookie edges are slightly golden.