Real Food for Real Life

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Salmon, my mother-in-law's way

For Christmas dinner my mother-in-law served both a beef tenderloin roast and a baked salmon. I went with the beef this evening, but Ben had the salmon and told me about how good it was. Having watched her prepare it, I knew it was super easy, making it the best kind of dish. Tuesday was a busy da,y requiring a simple meal, and having a bag of salmon fillets in the freezer, I decided to give her method a try. That morning I put together a cucumber dill sauce and a quick white bean salad, leaving only the salmon to prepare at dinner time (and some rice, thanks to Uncle Ben). I served the fish, rice, and beans on a bed of baby spinach, with the sauce on the side. It was so simple and delicious that it is one to remember for a busy weeknight (and no fish smell in the house as an added bonus!).

Lemon Baked Salmon

salmon fillets, individual portion size
2 lemons
fresh (or dried) minced dill
coarse salt & fresh ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400. Spray a baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Rinse and pat dry the salmon fillets and place in the dish. You can use fillets with the skin or not; if they still have the skin the flesh lifts off easily once cooked. Squeeze the juice of one large lemon over the fillets and season with salt, pepper, and dill. Lay a thin slice from the second lemon on each fillet and bake for 20 minutes. If using fillets with skin, use a metal spatula to separate and lift the fish, leaving the skins in the dish.

Cucumber Dill Sauce

1 cucumber
1/3 packed cup fresh dill
3/4 cup light mayonnaise
3/4 cup light sour cream
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
coarse salt & fresh ground black pepper

If the cucumber has a thick waxy skin, peel it, otherwise, leave the peel on. Remove the seeds and cut into a small dice. Mince the dill. Combine all the ingredients and chill until serving time.

Mediterranean White Bean Salad

2 cans (15oz.) canellini beans, rinsed & drained
1/4 cup roasted red pepper, sliced (jarred is fine)
1/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved lengthwise
3 tbs. lemon juice
2 tbs. olive oil
1 tbs. coarse grain mustard
coarse salt & fresh ground black pepper

Combine ingredients and chill until needed. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Inspiration from Rachel Ray?!

Ben and I were watching an old holiday episode of Iron Chef a few weeks ago where Mario Batali was paired with Rachael Ray against Bobby Flay paired with Giada DeLauerentis. I'm no fan of Rachel Ray, and Ben makes fun of the size of Giada's head and thinks she has too many teeth, but I love Mario Batali and Bobby Flay is okay too. Mario won Battle Cranberry despite the burden of Rachael's flustering. One dish in particular they made stood out for Ben and I- pasta cooked in red wine with an Italian sausage ragu. I told Ben I wanted to try that and he remarked that I better be planning on using winky owl, referring to Winking Owl wine, an ultra cheap brand from Aldi (the Shiraz doesn't taste too bad for a cheap quaff).

I was at Kroger yesterday and found a package of perciatelli, a hollow spaghetti- like pasta very similar to that used by Mario and Rachael, so I knew what we were having for dinner the next day. I had both the hot and mild Italian sausage links at home in the freezer, but I did pick up a $3.99 bottle of Merlot.
The next afternoon I made the ragu and let it simmer until dinnertime. Just before it was time to eat I poured the bottle of wine into a pot to cook the pasta and found that one bottle was not going to be enough (Ben was saying "I told you so" in the background), but I fortunately had a bottle of the winky owl in the pantry, so into the pot it went as well. The pasta smelled fabulous while it was cooking, and before draining it, I ladled some of the wine into the ragu to thin it, so between what the pasta absorbed during cooking, and what I added to the sauce, very little of the wine was wasted (good thing, because even at $4 a bottle, this is a pricey pasta to make).
With much anticipation we sat to eat. The ragu was good, but not spectacular- the real star was the pasta. It took on a beautiful purple color from the wine and the taste WAS spectacular. We decided that the leftover pasta would be finished later in the week just dressed in butter. The ragu is destined to have peppers and onions added to become calzone filling. You have to try this sometime as a special treat, if you love pasta, and you love wine, you will love this dish!

Before I got this published, I was telling my mother-in-law about this pasta and she wondered about doing it with white wine as well. It wouldn't have the beautiful color, but is one I am definitely going to try in the future as well.

Pasta Cooked in Wine

1 1lb. pkg. perciatelli, or other long pasta
2 bottles of inexpensive red (or white) wine

Cook the pasta in the wine without salting. Before draining, ladle some of the wine into whatever sauce you are making (if applicable). Drain, but do not rinse. Serve and enjoy :)

Monday, December 28, 2009

One Hot Update


I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas spent with loved ones (and lots of good things to eat :). We had a fabulous time at my in-laws, and the only thing I cooked the entire time was a wine reduction sauce to accompany the beef tenderloin for Christmas dinner. I got a new camera I wanted for taking my food and flower pics- no more using Ben's clunky camera. Looking at the other gifts I received one would think I liked to cook or something (lol)- three cookbooks, a beautiful set of forged steel knives to replace my old stamped ones, a set of pretty serving bowls, and an antique silver tea service. A nice haul for a foodie :)
For breakfast the morning after we arrived home, we had scrambled eggs and sausage with Ben's last kolacky. When my mother-in-law read my blog at Christmas, she informed me that I had used the Americanized (and thus, incorrect, spelling), so I have used the correct spelling here :) I am including a picture of Ben's so you can see how pretty it was- not too shabby for someone who claims he can't (won't) cook.

Wanting a cocktail one night before leaving for the holiday, I turned to the habanero scotch I had steeping in the basement. I had found some mango syrup at Kroger, and figuring that a month was adequate time for the infusion process, I set out to make myself the long awaited cocktail (see the November 17 posting). I poured some of the scotch into my shaker with a splash of the syrup, gave it a good shake, and poured it over some ice. It looked good, it smelled good, so I took a little taste- and promptly found my mouth on set ablaze! Either one month was too long, or six habaneros were too many (or both), but this was liquid fire. I added some water to the glass which made the heat palatable, but left me with a watery tasting drink. Into the sink it went.
Home after Christmas, I picked up a bottle of inexpensive scotch to see if this cocktail dream could be revived (I sure wasn't going to try with the Glenfiddich in the liquor cabinet!). Trying again with one shot of the newly purchased scotch, 1/2 shot of the liquid fire, and a splash of the mango syrup. This time all was good, I had the spicy and slightly sweet cocktail that I have craved for a year. Pouring the infused scotch into a pretty bottle, Ben joked that I should put a label saying "Danger" on it- I'll have to see about that one.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's almost Christmas...

Three more days until Christmas and I actually have all the gifts wrapped- it will be a nice change not wrapping any on Christmas eve. The kids will do some more cookie decorating tonight, but really, all the Christmas sweets are done as well, Ben even got his kolachi done early. (Kolachi is a Slovak poppy seed roll that I'm supposedly not allowed to make because I'm not Slovak; actually, I think my dear husband fears that these hillbilly hands will make a better roll!) We are headed for my in-laws tomorrow to spend Christmas, and while I will be helping Pat in the kitchen, it's not my show this year and there will be many hands to help.
I was watching Emeril again this morn while getting ready, and he was making all kinds of seafood dishes that he had grown up eating at the holidays. Although I did not grow up eating seafood (alas, I was an adult before I had the pleasure of trying it), I certainly love eating it now. I wanted to make a nice meal for Ben, the kids and I to have together tonight any way, so seafood it would be. I had a nice salad last evening with spinach and dried cranberries, and since I had some spinach that needed to be used before we left, I decided that we would have that as well, dressed with some of the Sweet and Sour Salad Dressing leftover from Thanksgiving. A crisp baguette and a bottle of Fiano (an Italian off-dry white) finished off the meal beautifully (no wine for the kiddies, of course).

Spinach and Cranberry Salad

baby spinach, washed and stemmed
red onion slivers
dried cranberries
walnut pieces
feta or cotija crumbles*
Sweet and Sour Dressing or a Balsamic Vinaigrette
fresh ground black pepper

Quantities are up to you, depending on how many you are serving, and how much you like a particular ingredient. Just before serving, toss the spinach with dressing and put into a serving dish or dishes. Sprinkle on the cheese, cranberries, onion, and walnut pieces. Give the salad a grinding of fresh black pepper and serve.
*Cotija is a Mexican cheese that is similar to feta, but drier and not quite as salty. I actually prefer it to feta and am much more likely to have it around.

Sweet and Sour Salad Dressing

2 tbs. soy sauce
scant 3/4 cup canola oil
scant 3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup + 2 tbs. cider vinegar

Blend all the ingredients in a blender until sugar is completely dissolved. Shake well before serving. Store in the refrigerator, but bring to room temperature before using.

Seafood Scampi

12 to 16 oz, salmon fillet, skinned & cubed
12 to 16 oz. bay scallops, drained
12 to 16 oz. med. shrimp, peeled & deveined
1 lb. box of some variety of long pasta
olive oil
minced garlic
kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper
unsalted butter
dry white wine
lemon juice
lemon wedges, shredded Parmesan, & minced parsley, to serve

In separate bowls, toss the salmon, shrimp, and scallops with a little olive oil, minced garlic, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper and set aside. Cook your pasta of choice al dente in liberally salted water (I had fettucine). Heat a large saute pan over medium high heat; saute the seafood individually until just cooked and put together in a bowl at the back of the stove to keep warm. (Now this becomes very un-recipelike because I can't tell you how much to use, or even how much I used.) Into the pan put some butter, dry white wine, and a small amount of lemon juice, quantity depending on how "saucy" you want the end product. Bring to s simmer and taste- add whatever you feel is lacking- I added some more garlic, dried parsley, and lemon juice. Toss the pasta with the sauce and seafood. Serve with shredded Parmesan (no can please) and lemon wedges; minced fresh parsley is great if you have it (I did not).

These are the leftovers, I forgot to take a picture as I was serving dinner.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Gingerbread

Some of Christopher's cookies from today.

Since Nicole was little (and she is now 21!), we have baked and decorated gingerbread cookies at Christmas time. They taste good, the kids have fun decorating them, and all the family likes receiving gift packages of these cookies. I said to Christopher today that I guessed I would stop baking then when he was too old to decorate, and he told me that he would never be too old (cute what they will say when they are ten). This whole process will take several days to complete- 2 days to make and bake, plus however many days the kids take (they seem to work in spurts), but this is one tradition well worth the effort :) These cookies are not too sweet and have a nice spiciness.

Gingerbread Cookies

2 eggs
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup molasses
3 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves

In a larges mixing bowl (or stand mixer), beat the eggs slightly. Add the sugar, butter, oil, and molasses, and beat until creamy. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet and beat until well combines. Flatten the dough into a disk, place on a dinner plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. At this point I repeat the recipe for a second batch- it would be too difficult to work the dough to double the recipe.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Only work with 1/4 of the dough at a time, leaving the rest in the refrigerator. On a lightly floured surface roll the dough to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into desired shapes, placing on a nonstick cookie sheet. Rework the dough as needed. Bake one sheet at a time for 7 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool and decorate with royal icing if desired. Quantity will depend on size of cookies, but you should get about 30 4"x6" gingerbread people (our favorite shape).

Royal Icing

3 large egg whites
4 cups powdered sugar
2 tbs. lemon juice

In a large mixing bowl (or stand mixer), beat the ingredients at a low speed until combined. Turn the speed to high and beat until glossy peaks form. Color with food coloring if desired. The icing will keep for a few days in the refrigerator tightly covered. Once dry on the cookies there is no need to refrigerate. Royal icing also makes a great glue for building "gingerbread:" houses from graham crackers.

These recipes are adapted from Julie Russo's Great Good Food

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Reader's Request

Well, I have my first reader's request. Kristy wants the recipe for the zucchini bread I used to make the Pumpkin Butter Cream Trifle at Thanksgiving, and considering that it was her bowl that I used to make the darn thing, I better give it to her :) I am also including a recipe for pumpkin bread- both recipes are adapted from ones found in Pfaltzgraff Collector's Cookbook. This is one of my very first cookbooks and it is frightening to think how many years I have had it. Both of these breads freeze very well, so I will usually make two batches.

Zucchini Bread

3 large eggs, beaten
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil (can sub 1/2 applesauce for lower fat, still very good)
1 tbs. vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose lour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 cups finely grated zucchini, packed and heaping

Optional ingredients: the more of these you add the more desert like this becomes
1 cup crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins

Combine eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla; blend well. Mix in dry ingredients, Stir in zucchini and any optional ingredients. Pour batter into 2 greased and floured loaf pans and bake at 350 for 1 hour, or until a knife comes out clean. Alternately, pour into 6 mini loaf pans and bake for approximately 40 minutes. Cool in pan a few minutes, then turn out onto cooling rack until completely cool to the touch.

Pumpkin Bread

2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil (again, you can sub 1/2 applesauce)
4 eggs
2 cups fresh pumpkin puree
3 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. Baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
Optional ingredients:
1 cup chopped dates
1 cup chopped walnuts

Combine sugar, oil, applesauce if using, and pumpkin, mix until smooth. Add dry ingredients and mix completely. Stir in dates and nuts if using. Pour into 2 greased and floured loaf pans (or mini loaf pans). Bake at 350 degrees for 60 to 80 minutes. Turn out of the pans and cool completely.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Pumpkin Failure?

I still had two small pumpkins left, and with Thanksgiving long past, I needed to find something to do with them. I had visions of glistening pumpkin cubes, roasted to a crisp brownness, sweet on the inside, savory on the outside.
With this vision in mind I set out peeling the pumpkins (with a vegetable peeler no less, so as to not waste any of that pumpkin deliciousness), saving the seeds to roast and salt for later snacking. This done, I diced the pumpkin into about 3/4" cubes and tossed then with olive oil. I spread the cubes onto a baking sheet and seasoned liberally with kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper, and garlic powder, still imagining the sweet and savory play of flavors (was I salivating?). I put the seasoned cubes into a 450 degree oven and waited. The smell was grand, and after about 10 minutes I pulled then out to toss around on the pan - so far, so good. Another 10 minutes in the oven and I pulled the cubes out to toss again and was greeted with pumpkin mush!! The cubes, while browning as desired, are not crisp, instead, soft and mushy. I sample a cube, and while indeed quite tasty, the texture and lack of crispness lose it for me and I just set the pan aside.
Darling husband enters the room and asks what is on the pan. When I tell him of my vision he says I needed to deep fry the cubes. As we don't deep fry in this house, I figure that I am stuck with ordering sweet potato fries (as the closest facsimile) when I can. But, not being one to waste perfectly good food (the cubes did taste good after all), I scooped them into a container and put them in the refrigerator.

The next day I am playing around in the kitchen when it occurs to me to make soup from the mushy pumpkin cubes, soup being a wonderful use for all sorts of kitchen leftovers. I diced up a large onion and sauteed it until it started to caramelize before dumping in some minced garlic and the cubes. I give it all a quick toss and a liberal seasoning with some more black pepper. Some chicken stock, milk, and a whiz with the immersion blender and I had a very nice soup and my kitchen failure was redeemed :)

Roasted Pumpkin Soup

about 4 cups fairly small pumpkin cubes
olive oil
kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper, & garlic powder
1 large onion, diced
minced garlic, quantity up to you
2 or 3 cups chicken stock
milk, I used 1%
additional salt & black pepper

Peel and cube the pumpkin, toss with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Spread on a baking sheet and roast at 450 degrees until browned and softened, tossing a few times during roasting. Dice a large onion and saute with a little olive oil in a soup pan until starting to turn brown. Toss in the minced garlic and pumpkin cubes, stirring together until the garlic becomes fragrant. Pour in the chicken stock and simmer a few minutes to meld the flavors. Remove from the heat and with an immersion blender, puree until smooth. Return to the heat and stir in enough milk to reach whatever consistency you like your cream soups. Adjust the seasoning with some additional salt and pepper and warm gently- do not boil.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Pre-Christmas Happenings

This has been a very busy few weeks with Cub Scouts. We wrapped up our Thanksgiving and Christmas giving efforts (the Pack "adopted" 2 families for Bird day, and 3 for Christmas), and the boys and their families did a fantastic job collecting food and gifts for their families :) We ended 2009 with a Pack Meeting at the Miami University Art Museum, which was a fantastic facility for us, and all the boys toured the exhibits after the meeting. Now it is time for a well deserved break and a chance to cook, write, and hopefully get a few Christmas gifts wrapped.

Christopher had his 10th birthday party on Saturday, December 5th, and what a Lego extravaganza that was! He had a fantastic time, and his friends did as well, judging by the noise and activity level. :) Pretty cool was the Lego cake that my friend Kristy made for him. Chris described to her exactly what he wanted and she gave him the perfect birthday cake!! It tasted good too- I had a piece with a glass of milk, and I don't normally eat birthday cake OR drink milk. Check out Kristy's page on Facebook when you get a chance, she has pictures of lots of cakes she has done.

http://www.facebook.com/#/group.php?gid=67897963868&ref=ts

That same evening I had an ornament stealing and cookie exchange to go to at Kristy's mom's house. Not being a big one for making cookies (except for the yearly Christmas gingerbread, of course), I made Fruit and Nut Fudge, making 10 dozen pieces for the exchange (and another 9 dozen yesterday for Christmas giving). Because this was the same day as Christopher's party, I needed a super quick and easy dish to take and share so I made Liptauer Cheese- I didn't bring much home, so I'm guessing that it went over well. I did learn a lesson from this evening - be careful what you wish for. I unwrapped a pretty blue ornament, and while it was very pretty, it would not look good on my tree, so I was hoping for someone to steal it, thus giving me the chance to choose another one. Well, it did get stolen, and I did get to pick again, but the second ornament was FUCHSIA, with bright blue and yellow swirls!! Needless to say, no one stole that ornament and it is now hanging on the BACK of my tree.

Fruit & Nut Fudge

1 cup chocolate chips
2 tbs. brandy
1 cup walnut pieces
2 heaping tbs. slivered almonds
2 heaping tbs. raisins
2 heaping tbs, dried cranberries
powdered sugar, for dredging

In a food processor, pulse the fruit and nuts until fairly small, but still retaining some texture. Put the chocolate chips and brandy into a medium microwave safe bowl, and nuke at 50% power for 2 minutes. Stir the chocolate until the chips are completely melted and the brandy is incorporated. Dump in the fruit and nuts, stir to combine. Using your fingers and hands, take small pieces and after squeezing it to bring it together, roll into small balls. How large you make them is up to you, but I usually get between 20 and 24 pieces. Work quickly while the chocolate is pliable, and place the pieces on a wax paper lined cookie sheet. If you are going to make more than one batch, start all over again, no need to wash the bowl, just make sure that you have scrapped most of it out on the last piece or two. A bag of chocolate chips will make two batches, and I made six that first night, one after another. After the pieces have cooled and hardened for an hour or two, roll in powdered sugar and package as desired. There is no need to refrigerate the finished product, but it will not harm it if you do so.

Liptauer Cheese

1 stick butter, at room temperature
1 8oz. pkg. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
1 heaping tsp. capers
1 heaping tsp. anchovy paste (or 2-3 fillets)
1 heaping tsp. Dijon mustard
salt & freshly ground black pepper

Place the onion quarters in a food processor and pulse to mince it. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse until smooth and well combined, scraping down the sides of the processor as needed. Pile into a pretty bowl and serve with assorted crackers. This is an assertively flavored cheese spread and is at its best if made at least a few hours before serving and the flavors allowed to meld in the fridge.

Last weekend was our 7th annual neighborhood Christmas party, this the same evening as our Cub Scout event at the Art Museum, leaving me again in the need for a quick, easy dish to take. At the cookie exchange someone had brought meatballs cooked in a mixture of grape jelly and chili sauce, and this seemed also to be a pretty popular dish. I decided to make my own twist on this, putting everything in the crookpot on low before we left for the afternoon. Just before leaving for the party that evening, I piled the meatballs in a pretty Christmas bowl with frilly toothpicks for serving. I made 2 and 1/2 pounds and when we went to leave that evening there were about five pieces left in the bowl, so I call those a hit as well.

No Recipe Meatballs

2 to 2 and 1/2 bag frozen, prepared meatballs
1 can whole berry cranberry sauce (I used leftover homemade cranberry sauce that I had put in the freezer after Thanksgiving)
1 bottle of spicy cocktail sauce

Turn your crockpot on high, and stir the cranberry and cocktail sauces until melted together. Pour in the meatballs, stirring to cover all with the sauce. Turn the heat to low and cook for 4 hours or so.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thanksgiving continued (finally)...

My, my, my, it seems that it never ends. Today was supposed to be my day to write, but cub scout business has kept me busy for the day (again), and here it is, almost three in the afternoon. I really can't complain though, I am making a contribution to a very worthwhile organization and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. Before I get back to the Thanksgiving coverage, I want to take a moment and share with you something my friend Sandy and I did Sunday afternoon. These are pilgrim hat cookies that we put together, 95 of them, using fudge stripe cookies, marshmallows, and melted chocolate. We gave these out at our November cub scout pack meeting on Monday night. I think they turned out pretty cute and were a definite hit with the boys and their sibs. I am still, however, trying to figure out how I ended up with chocolate from my wrists to elbows!

Ben and I never did have a piece of that pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving (we were too stuffed from all the other yummy food), but when we finally did try it, we agreed with the other reports that it was the best pie yet. I did manage a taste of the trifle on the day and it was really good as well. This was the firs time I had made a trifle and it could not have been any easier- and the presentation in the glass bowl was pretty wow as well (thanks Kristy for the loan of the bowl :).

"White" Pumpkin Pie
adapted from Williams Sonoma

1 unbaked deep dish pie crust, homemade or not
1 & 1/4 cups sugar
1 heaping tbs. of cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
1 & 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg (fresh if you have it)
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
2 cups of fresh pumpkin puree, not canned
3 large eggs
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the pumpkin, eggs and cream, stir to combine well. Pour into the unbaked pie crust and bake until the center is set, about 60 to 65 minutes. Cover the edges of the crust with foil if they start to get too brown during baking. Remove from oven and let cool at least two hours before serving. Serve with fresh whipped cream. (The walnut in the middle of the pie was used to hide my knife mark from testing the pie- a trick to remember)

Fresh Whipped Cream

2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Pour the ingredients into your stand mixer, turn on to high and walk away to do something else (gotta love being able to do that :), or beat with a hand mixer until the cream is stiff, a couple of minutes. I don't understand Cool Whip when this is so easy, and so much tastier.

Pumpkin Butter Cream Trifle

1 loaf of prepared quick bread, such as pumpkin or zucchini
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 pint jar of pumpkin butter
1 cup of walnut pieces, more for garnish

Whip the cream, sugar and vanilla until stiff; with a spatula, very gently fold in a little more than 1/2 of the jar of pumpkin butter. refrigerate until needed. Cut the quick bread into 1 inch cubes- I used a loaf of zucchini bread that I had baked this summer and stowed in the freezer (featured in a Facebook posting). In a small saucepan, heat the brandy and maple syrup to a simmer, stirring to combine well. Drizzle the brandy syrup mixture over the cubed quick bread, tossing to allow equal absorption. I prepared the cream and bread the night before and assembled on Thanksgiving morning- do it however beat fits your schedule. Layer 1/2 of the cubes in the bottom of a trifle or other clear glass bowl, spreading for an even layer. Sprinkle over 1/2 of the walnuts, then spread evenly wit 1/2 of the pumpkin butter cream. Repeat. Spoon the remains of the jar of pumpkin butter into a ziplock baggie; cut a small corner off the bag and dot the surface of the cream with the butter, or pipe it on in a pretty fashion if your hand is steadier than mine. Dot with additional walnut pieces and refrigerate until serving time.

Well, my little guy will be stepping off the bus any moment, so I think I am going to bring this to a close. Considering that Thanksgiving was almost a week ago now, I think I will put it to bed now. BUT, if there are any items on the menu that you want a recipe for, just let me know and I'll get those up. I'm going to end this with a picture of Christopher's pickled crabapples- they were certainly tart, I think a touch more sugar next time, but I am looking forward to trying a vinaigrette with the spicy vinegar from the jars.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving (or, Did I really just spend two days cooking?)

Well, another Thanksgiving has come and gone, with good company and good food aplenty, although it continues to amaze me that I can spend two days preparing for this meal to see it disappear in a mere hour. Then, between parents and grandfathers and daughters in from school, all taking food home, we have not enough leftovers to get tired of (and alas, no Bubble and Squeak this year). But I can't complain, I love to host this meal and my family loves to eat it (and they are very generous with the praise which makes any cook feel grand).

Most of my family are strict traditionalists when it comes to this meal, but I have been able to change things a little as time goes by- they will eat my mashed potatoes even though I leave on the skins and throw in a whole head of garlic, the gravy is made with white wine, but no (nasty) giblets, and the green beans are sauteed, not boiled into submission. I have done away with that quivering can shaped cranberry sauce of my childhood in favor of a fresh whole berry sauce, this year making a spicy version with jalapenos and crushed red pepper that my grandfather loved (it needed to be spicier still in my opinion). Our Thanksgiving dinners have always been alcohol free events (at least in my family), but this year I had a blackberry wine from the nearby Hanover Winery that I really wanted to serve, and I'll be damned if grandpa didn't have a glass. I about fell off my chair for I have never seem him drink an alcoholic beverage, ever. The pumpkin pie was made with the white pumpkin I put up in the freezer last month, and it was the best one I have made to date (just ask my dad, he'll tell you so 8 or 20 times :).

I was able to get a lot of the work done the day before- the stuffing, baked asparagus, and escalloped pineapple prepared for the oven, the pies made, the trifle ingredients prepared for layering on Thanksgiving morn, the cranberry sauces made, the salad and dressing made, the green beans prepped, and even the potatoes scrubbed. The dining room table was set with the silver, crystal, soft cloth napkins and lots of candles and greenery. The real work is in the juggling done on Thanksgiving day in trying to have all these dishes cooked and hot at the appropriate time. Ben and I have been talking for a while of replacing our electric range with a gas one, placing the electric in the basement for our future kitchenette (that is actually going to be a second full kitchen). The decision was finalized Thanksgiving morning when I couldn't get both the turkey and the ham in the oven at once without a last minute change of roasting ware. I'll have that gas range (and thus the use of two ranges) after Christmas. In all the hustle to get everything done the photography was sporadic, but I did manage to get a few good ones.

The Menu

Herb Roasted Turkey Breast
Bourbon and Brown Sugar Glazed Ham

Whole Grain Bread Stuffing
Baked Asparagus
(I tweaked this old family recipe)
Garlic Smashed Potatoes
Pan Gravy with White Wine

Escallopped Pineapple (a recipe from Ben's family)
Garlic Sauteed Green Beans
Triple Green Salad with Sweet and Sour dressing
Dinner Rolls
(I cheated and bought these)
Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce, two ways
Pickled Crabapples (the ones Chris had me make last month)

"White" Pumpkin Pie
Pumpkin Butter Cream Trifle

Pecan Tartlets
(cheated with these as well)
Fresh Whipped Cream

Herb Roasted Turkey Breast
I usually don't roast a whole turkey because any more Chris is the only one who like the dark meat, so I just find the largest turkey breast I can , a 10lb. whopper this year. A breast this large takes a few days to thaw in the fridge, just a a small turkey would, so be sure to allow ample time. Quarter a small peeled onion and place it into the cavity. Place the breast meaty side up in the roasting pan, you may have to wedge the bottom bone at the opening in the bars of the rack to get it to stand straight (I did, see the photo). Pat the breast dry with paper towels and then rub liberally with olive oil. Sprinkle all exposed skin very generously with herbs and seasonings of choice- I used kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper, garlic powder, rubbed sage, thyme, and oregano. Don't worry if extra falls into the roasting pan, it will further flavor the dripping that you will use later to make the gravy. Pour a cup of water or stock into the bottom of the pan; roast in a 325 degree oven approximately 20 minutes a pound, or until an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part reads 170 degrees. There is no need to baste during the roasting, nor a need to cover it with foil at any time- the skin will be left crisp and tasty for those who like it. Remove to a platter and cover tightly in foil until serving time. Reserve the pan and drippings. This method also works well with roasting chickens- you may want to add lemon and garlic cloves to the cavity for chicken.

Bourbon and Brown Sugar Glazed Ham
Again, not a recipe so much as just a way of doing things. We have ham as well on Thanksgiving because my dad won't eat turkey (gasp!), and the last few years I have been buying spiral cut hams. They do cost a little more, but they are so much easier to serve that I find them well worth it. Place the ham cut side down in a roasting pan and cover the pan tightly with foil. Roast at 325 degrees (with the turkey) for 10 to 12 minutes per pound. When there is approximately 30 minutes cooking time left, remove the foil and move the ham into serving position. Brush with one half the bourbon sugar mix, making sure some gets in between the slices, roast for 15 minutes, remove and repeat. The glaze consists of about 1/2 packed cup brown sugar (light or dark), a couple tablespoons spicy brown mustard, and a couple tablespoons of bourbon; stir well to combine. Remove to a serving platter and cover with foil until serving time. Reserve the drippings for another use like yummy ham gravy or adding to the stock for bean soup; the same goes for that meaty ham bone you are left with at the end.

To be continued...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Timely Tip

We have been so busy lately that there has not been time for involved cooking, although I did (at Christopher's request) make a pretty tasty batch of Sloppy Joes (no Manwich here, please).

What I did manage to do this week was clean out my bread drawer of all those odds and ends of leftover bread. I don't throw these out, I instead cut them up into small cubes and dry them on a pan for a day or two before storing away in a plastic canister. The dried cubes I can use to make stuffing, or throw in the blender and make my own bread crumbs. I do this with all sorts of breads (except sweet ones- but those are good for bread puddings), and the resulting mix is tastier than what you can buy at the store, not to mention, much more economical. I keep a small canister of the bread crumbs around to use in recipes as needed, and it makes a good easy breading. With Thanksgiving arriving soon, start now saving those bread cubes, a mere 10 cups (not as much as you think) will make a nice pan of stuffing for your holiday meal.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Kid Food Good Enough for Grownups

With Chris and I on our own for dinner again last night, and a basketful of bargain apples in the pantry, I thought it would be a good time to make a dish that the kids all love, but Ben won't eat, cinnamon apples with noodles and smoked sausage. I came up with this dish when Nicole and Matt were quite young (thus, before the Christopher), and it has been a kid favorite ever since. Nicole even called from school a few weeks ago wanting to know how to make it. She will be coming home this weekend to watch Chris for us, so I decided to make enough that she could take the leftovers back to school with her. Chris and I also decided to eat steamed green peas with our dinner - another thing his dad won't eat. I like to say that I haven't met a vegetable I didn't like (except beets and fennel that is).

I can really only give general guidance on this one- the quantity & type of apples used is for you to decide, although I do like to use a mix of apples as some apples break down more with cooking, and this leaves a nice variety of texture. The amount of sweetener used is personal preference, and while I use brown sugar, I imagine a lo-cal sweetener would work too. I have added apple juice before when the apples have seemed a little dry in the pan, so that is another variable
What is great about this dish is that YOU control what is in it. Chris really likes the cinnamon apples at Chili's, but I can't help but think they are not very good for him. When I make my own I know what he is eating. Leftover apples with noodles are also good for breakfast, and the basic cinnamon apples make a great breakfast topper for hot biscuits, or just about anything else.

Basic Cinnamon Apples

apples (quantity/variety up to you)
lemon juice
butter or margarine
brown sugar (or other sweetener)
ground cinnamon
apple juice, cider, or water (if needed)

Wash and dry the apples well. Quarter lengthwise and cut out the core, but leave the peel (this adds not only nutrition, but also color and texture, plus, it's easier). Slice the quarters and toss the slices with a little lemon juice as you work; this not only prevents browning, but adds a nice contrasting tartness under the sweetness of the dish. Melt some butter in a large non0stick saute pan over med-high heat; swirl to coat the bottom before pouring in the apple slices. Let cook for several minutes before stirring. Turn the heat down to medium and continue to cook until the apples start to soften and release their juices- if the apples seem dry, which they might if you are using a lot of Granny Smiths, add a little apple juice, cider, or water. Once the apples are softened and juicy, add the sweetener of choice, not too much all at once, you can always add more. Add the cinnamon at this time, start with about a tablespoon, you can add more later. Cook until the juices are thickened, tasting for sweetness and cinnamon along the way. Don't worry if some of the apple slices seem to dissolve into the juices, this is a good thing.

Cinnamon Apples with Noodles and Smoked Sausage

prepared basic cinnamon apples
1 pkg. substantial egg noodles (I like Reames frozen homestyle)
1 pkg. smoked sausage

Slice the smoked sausage into thin half rounds; saute over med-high heat until browned; remove to another dish with a slotted spoon and set aside. If making the apples for the purpose of this dish, use the drippings in the pan to cook the apples (whether you add the butter as well is completely up to you - I did). Cook the egg noodles according to package directions. I like to use a substantial noodle for this, either homemade, the frozen, or a dry spaetzle or kluski type; the inexpensive thin dry egg noodles will work, but only in a pinch. Once the noodles are cooked, drain well, then toss with the apples; when the noodles are thoroughly coated with the apples, toss in the sausage and serve.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mexican "Sushi"

Yesterday was Ben's birthday, and we had intended to go to BD's Mongolian BBQ for dinner, but instead, Ben came down with the flu. Mind you, he made it through the whole month of October, when Chris and I were ill for so long (well, me anyway, the kiddo rebounded quickly). Ben could not even face a bowl of soup and with the other kids not home, Chris and I were on our own. He decided that he wanted Mexican again (thank goodness for those leftovers). With the little guy having spoken, that is what we had. Chris took tortillas and layered them with rice, the carnitas shreds, and cotija cheese, before rolling them up and having me slice them into rolls for him. Declaring them delicious, he called these rolls "Mexican Sushi," and was so proud of them he wanted me to take a picture and put it here to share. Notice the dribble of taco sauce on top - he said that was like his "wasabi paste." Gotta love the cuteness of the whole thing.

While on the subject of leftovers, Ben and I had a really delicious lunch (before he got sick) made from the leftover cider braised chorizo. I crisped up a small baguette in the oven before slicing it horizontally. On the bottom half I layered the remaining chorizo and onions (warmed in the microwave), and dribbled some of the juices over the top half. After adding sliced Swiss, I put the top on and warmed the whole thing in the oven until the cheeses melted and the sandwich was crisp. The resulting "bullet" sandwich was super tasty and a great way to finish those leftovers (as well as provide an easy, no fuss lunch).

Monday, November 9, 2009

Carnitas Dinner

Shopping at Aldi this past week, I bought a very nice whole pork loin for $1.99 a pound. I sliced a couple of nice thick chops off one end earlier this week, but was still left with a nice big piece of loin. Contemplating what to do with this, my mind turned to carnitas, one of my all time favorite foods (I kind of think of it as a food group all of its own). Whenever we eat at Taqueria Piasano's I usually order something involving this tasty pork (side note - if in the Hamilton, Ohio area and you love comida mexicana, this is a must stop). Often thought of as fried pork, it is really a slow cooked pork roast (usually a fairly fatty butt or shoulder),that is then chopped or shredded before a final roasting in the oven. The resulting mix of tender and crispy bits is a pork eating delight!! While a much leaner cut of pork then the traditional roasts, I have made carnitas quite successfully in the past using loin, and being the weekend with ample time for preparation, I decided to do it again. I prepped the loin and cooked it in my crockpot on Saturday, shredding it up and getting it all ready for its final roasting that night before putting in the fridge. The fresh salsa and everything else I made Sunday afternoon. Give this a try, I'm sure you'll enjoy it, and with a little planning, not to difficult to make.

Carnitas

1 whole pork loin (4 to 5 lbs.)
1 onion, sliced into fairly thick half rings
3 or 4 poblano chilies, sliced into strips
6 large garlic cloves, peeled & halved lengthwise
1 orange, sliced & deseeded
1 can/bottle beer
kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, & ground cumin

Slice the onion and peppers, peel & halve the garlic cloves and toss it all in the bottom of a large crockpot. Season all sides of the pork loin liberally with the salt, pepper, and ground cumin; place into the pot fat side up. Place a couple of the orange slices onto of the loin, tuck the remaining slices around the sides. Without disturbing the seasonings, pour in the beer, cover, and cook on low for 6 hours (no peeking, the smell will be enough to hold you).
Remove the loin from the pot and let cool until cool enough to handle; slice into approximately one inch slices and without removing the remaining fat, break these slices up with you fingers. Toss the pork with the onion, peppers, and garlic from the pot with about a cup of the cooking liquid. Cover and refridgerate until the next (or another) day.
On the intended day preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spread the pork and veggie mix onto a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes to one hour, or until you get the desired amount of brown crispy bits (it should still be moist underneath).

Salsa Ranchera

1/2 lb. tomatillos
1 small onion
4 large garlic cloves
3 (or 4) canned chipotle peppers & some of the adodo sauce
3 tbs. lime juice
1/3 to 1/2 a bunch of fresh cilantro
salt

Peel the papery outer covering off tomatillos, wash and dry well; halve horizontally and place on a baking sheet (I use a foil lined one for easy cleanup). Peel and quarter the onion, scatter large pieces on the sheet. Peel the garlic cloves and add whole to the sheet. Broil several inches from the element until the veggies start to char; check frequently, it will not take long. Remove from the oven and scoop everything into a blender; pulse a few times. Add the lime juice, salt, chipotle (at least 3 for proper color & taste, more if you desire to turn up the heat), and some of the adobo sauce from the can; pulse a few times. Add the fresh cilantro (I use what is left after using the topmost sprigs for chopped onions and cilantro), a few small stems are no harm as they will be processed. Pulse a a few more times to desired consistency; do nit make it too smooth, you still want to see some individual bits of color and the salsa should have texture. If it is too thick add a small amount of water and stir to combine.
It is best to make this at least a few hours before you intend to use it; it will keep for a week or so tightly covered in the fridge. After the big meal I like to put the remains in a squirt bottle (you may want to thin it a little at this time) so it is easy to store and use for the rest of the week. This is a wonderful all purpose salsa and is very good on those morning eggs. Makes about 2 cups of salsa.

"Refried" Beans (Frijoles)

2 small or 1 large can of beans of choice
1 large onion, diced
1 generous tbs. adobo seasoning (a Cuban seasoning available in most grocery stores)
1 can/bottle of beer

While not authentic, this is the easiest "refried" bean recipe, and the recipe tastes great, no matter the type of bean used (I've used pinto, black, red, and great northern beans).
Saute the onion in a medium saucepan just until softened ad beginning to turn golden. Add the adobo and saute for a minute to release the fragrance; add the beans with the canning liquid and the beer (slowly for the beer), stir to combine. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium and cook until most of the liquid is gone (this will depend on the desired consistency of the finised product). Mash about 1/2 of the beans in the pan, but still leave a lot of texture and large bean pieces.

"Spanish" Rice

This is so easy I really can't even call it a recipe. To cooked white rice add a few large spoonfuls of your favorite bottled salsa, then toss in some thinly sliced fresh scallion and serve. This is also very good with diced hard boiled egg scattered over the top at serving (store any leftovers separately).

For ServingWhenever we eat like this we do it family style, with bowls of the pork, beans, and rice on the table. We also have warm tortillas (I like corn, everyone else likes flour), as well as an assortment of delicious items with which to dress our plates. Above we have finely diced onion with fresh cilantro, the salsa ranchera, grated cotija cheese, juicy lime wedges, pickled jalapenos and carrots, and diced avocado.
A cervesa or margarita for the adults, and some agua fresca or horchatta for the younger set and you have the makings of a fine feast. Enjoy.

Easy Avocado Tip

Avocado can be slippery to deal with...an easy way around this is to halve the avocado lengthwise, remove the pit (if you reserve this and place it into your guacamole bowl it helps inhibit browning somewhat). Slice or dice the avocado while still in te skin - for the dices, just run a spoon around the skin and pop the dices right into a bowl - for the slices, just run your thumb between the skin and the flesh and the slices come right out. If only using 1/2 the avocado, do not remove the pit - store that half in the fridge wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.
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