Friday, November 25, 2011

Giving Thanks

This week, how could I write about anything else, really?

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, the Mother of all Food Holidays. Yes, there are other holidays with food associated with them, but few others are so focused on the Feast.

It really is my favorite holiday. I love cooking for other people. I love the turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy (“Gravy, gravy uber alles”…everybody sing!) and sweet potatoes and green bean casserole and, yes, even the cranberry sauce.

There are other things, too, that can be part of the feast. My mom always put out a relish tray.

What, you say, is a relish tray?

At our house, it consisted of a tray (or two) of pickles (Dad’s dills, Mom’s 14-day sweets, sometimes bread and butter pickles or pickled beets or dilled green beans, all homemade, of course) and olives. As kids, we used to put the black olives on our fingers (like you didn’t…come on, admit it). I wouldn’t touch a green olive…hated them and their suspicious-looking red centers. I have since changed my tune and will eat almost anything that can be called an olive, especially when stuffed with things like pimiento or garlic.

Other families munch on things like smoked oysters and smoked clams. That’s great for them. I won’t deprive them of their joy.

And speaking of seafood, some really awesome sisters make shrimp ball, some of which is sitting in my fridge right now because I am too full to eat any. Shrimp, cream cheese, onions…oooooh…so tasty!!!

There are so many variations on the theme. Turkey wrapped in bacon. Chicken wrapped in duck wrapped in turkey. Turkey stuffed with herbs and aromatics. Turkey stuffed with stuffing (don’t listen to Alton Brown. Stuffing is not evil if you are careful. The best stuffing in the world is the stuffing that comes from the turkey.).

Then there’s the stuffing. Cornbread stuffing (my mom’s favorite), oyster stuffing, sausage stuffing, apple stuffing, plain old bread stuffing. Start with butter, onions and celery and go hog wild if you want. My favorite is plain old bread stuffing, but made with some good artisan bread, plus lots of fresh sage and extra turkey or chicken stock to get it nice and moist. I love getting Grand Central Bakery’s bags of stuffing bread. It’s their bread, already cubed and dried and ready. Oh, so good! And it supports a local business!

Some families have varieties of fermented fruit to drink with the meal (and before and after, too). One friend loves to have cranberry wine (and why not?). Some would say that one must serve white wine because it’s poultry, but a light red like a pinot noir is wonderful with turkey (as evidenced by last night’s bottle with dinner, Pinot Evil.). There are lots of fruit wines (in my basement) that would go well with Thanksgiving dinner. Or to go with dessert after dinner.

Oh, dessert. I nearly forgot.

Traditionalists would say pumpkin pie only. Truthfully, that would be enough for me. I would be very happy with a big slice of pumpkin pie with a mountain of whipped cream on top (no Cool Whip, please).

But there are other wonders of the pie form that would be equally appropriate and delicious. Apple pie, for example. Apple is a fall fruit and is wonderful in a pie, particularly the crumb-topped variety (like the one my niece made for yesterday’s dinner. The one we had to fight my brother-in-law to get a piece of. We just claimed it was for the 2 year old and got away with it.)

There are other forms of pumpkin dessert that can grace the table, too. One friend does not like piecrust, so she makes a pumpkin custard in ramekins and serves it like that. Or there is pumpkin cheesecake, like the one made by my other niece for yesterday’s dinner. With a little chocolate swirled in to make it sexy. :o) The 2-year-old like that one, too.

But for all the various forms the meal itself can take, one thing remains constant. The gathering of family, however you choose to define the word, to feast and give thanks.

It can make the absence of lost loved ones ache in your chest and your throat. But ultimately it creates joy and reminds us all what is truly important in life. Good food and the company of good friends and family to share it with.

I have said it before and will say it many, many times more. The most satisfying, humanizing, communal thing we can do is sit down and break bread with one another. It is nourishment not only for the body, but for the soul as well. And today, both body and soul are full up to here!

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!
Thanks for stopping by!

PS – And a Happy Birthday to my son, who is 2 years old today!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Good for what ails you

This week we decided to pull an old, cold weather staple out of the hat. Cold, rainy weather has always means soup to me. So we made garlic soup!

Mmmm…garlic soup. Let’s just enjoy that for a moment, shall we?

Even if you have never had it in your life, even if you have no idea what to expect, it sounds fabulously yummy, doesn’t it?

So what is this wonder that we call garlic soup? I’m sure you have your own version of it, but here’s mine. It comes from a cookbook my mom bought me years ago. I think it was called 365 Italian Recipes. I don’t even think I know where the cookbook is. I just know the recipe by heart. :o)

Garlic Soup (from 365 Italian Recipes)

Serves 4

2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp olive oil

12 cloves garlic, quartered

6 slices of Italian bread, cut into 1 inch cubes

6 cups chicken stock

½ cup dry red wine (and more for the chef, of course)

2 tbsp fresh Italian parsley

4 eggs

grated parmesan cheese

In a soup pot, heat the oil and butter until the butter is melted. Add the quartered garlic cloves and sauté for a minute or two. Do not brown garlic.

Add the cubed bread, tossing to coat it in the fat.

Stir in the stock, wine and parsley. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

One by one, crack each egg into a small dish and slip it into the soup. When all four eggs are in, cover the pot and poach the eggs until the whites are solid and the yolks are still runny (3-5 minutes, depending on whether your eggs are room temp or refrigerated).

Serve with grated parmesan cheese.

* * * * *

It is such a simple soup to make. And the poached egg makes it so soul-satisfying. N and I always start to crave it when the weather turns chilly.

I know you’re probably wondering about all that garlic. Twelve cloves? Really?

Here’s the thing. You quarter them, not crush them, so there’s less of the oils released into the system. And the garlic kind of gets poached in the oil and then the stock, so it comes out very mellow. Not as sweet and decadent as roasted, but still nicely present but muted. It’s a great flavor. This is definitely one of those soups that is better the next day. If there’s any left, that is.

One warning – you will burn your mouth if you don’t wait for a couple of minutes after you’ve dished it up to start eating. All of that bread holds the heat, so it’s like eating napalm until it cools off a bit. So just to be safe, you might want to undercook your egg a little. Because there are few things in life more disappointing than a poached egg that doesn’t have a runny yolk. ;o)

Friday, November 11, 2011

No rats were harmed in the making of this blog

There are, in fact, no rats in ratatouille (as opposed to Ratatouille, which does contain rats…many of them).

Now I can’t speak to what the real thing is like. I don’t think I have the desire or the patience to cook each vegetable individually, cut each of them precisely the same size. It is, by all I’ve read, a very fussy dish to prepare.

There are those I know who wouldn’t even think of attempting to cook it because it has that vegetable of no nutritional value: eggplant.

That’s another reason I wouldn’t be likely to make it. I’m not a huge fan of eggplant. It has to be prepared just so for me to even be interested in trying it. And by just so, I mean with TONS of garlic.

I’m not really selling this, am I? I mean, you don’t even know why I’m writing about ratatouille this week.

We made it in the crock pot. Really. Nancy looked in Slow Cooker Revolution last weekend to find something for us to make this week. When she said, “What about ratatouille?” I took a look at the recipe and said, “Why the hell not?” We’d been wanting to eat more veg and, hell, I’ll try anything once.

It did take a lot of prep, though not as much as the classic preparation. I had to cube two eggplants and three zucchini, slice two onions, mince a few cloves of garlic, chop fresh thyme. But I had my good chef’s knife.

I also had to brown the veggies in batches, eggplant, then zucchini, then onions, garlic and herbs. But at high heat, it didn’t take long to get some brown on them and get them quickly into the crock pot.

According to the recipe, the browning is one of the big reasons it works. So how could I not, right? They haven’t steered me wrong yet.

I even remembered to turn the crock pot on the right temperature this week!

The suggested cooking time was 4-6 hours on Low. My plan was to cook it only 4 hours, but time got away from me a little bit and I ended up cooking it almost 5.

We didn’t eat it that first night…I started cooking in the late afternoon on a Sunday, so it wasn’t finished cooking until almost 9pm.

But even microwaved the next day, the vegetables, especially the zucchini, still had some crunch to them.

I topped the dish with some homemade pesto I’d taken out of the freezer.

I admit to some trepidation before I ate it the first night. I just couldn’t imagine it turning out tasty, even though it really did smell delicious. I was so afraid of slimy eggplant, I almost wasn’t able to make myself try it.

But it really was delicious. I tired of it by the third night, but it was a great way to get some tasty veg. We got a roasted chicken from the grocery store for our protein.

No rats. But now I want to watch the movie again. :o)

Happy Friday, y’all. Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Oops, I did it again (or Always Have a Backup Plan)

So, this week, we picked another recipe from the Slow Cooker Revolution.

It’s called Bachelor Beef Stew…probably the lowest maintenance recipe in the book. Frozen peas, baby carrots, frozen potatoes. They do recommend using beef tips instead of stew meat, which means you would have to cut up the meat. But you even use frozen chopped onions, so no crying! Canned broth, tomato paste, a little soy sauce to deepen the flavors. And you thicken the gravy with a couple of tablespoons of tapioca. Brilliant!

Simple, right? No possible way to screw it up, right?

I’m sure you’re not surprised when I say “Wrong!!”

I did cut a couple of corners…I used stew meat and I didn’t microcook the onions before I put them in the crock pot. Nor did I add the fresh thyme it called for (because I forgot to get some).

But otherwise I followed the recipe pretty much to the letter.

it’s supposed to cook for 9-11 hours on LOW. So Monday morning I put everything in the pot, turned it on and went to work.

When I got home about 10 hours later, the house smelled pretty good, but it wasn’t as fragrant as I expected. I went to check the pot and the meat at the top looked oddly not brown. Usually the stuff at the top gets a bit brown, at least around the edges. And the sauce hadn’t thickened like I’d expected.

Apparently that doesn’t happen when you set the cooker to KEEP WARM!

I was in a hurry, wasn’t paying close attention, and didn’t turn the crock pot to the right temperature.

It could have been worse, for sure. I could have turned it on high and come home to an incinerated mess (or the fire department hosing down my dinner). This, at least, could be salvaged.

I turned the temp up to HIGH so it would get really hot and make sure everything was cooked through. But we sure didn’t have it for dinner that night.

Thank goodness for the rice I’d made that morning and the frozen gyoza from Costco.

And with all that, it still tasted pretty darn good. The next night I got home, put it in a soup pot and let it heat to bubbling on top of the stove. I added the frozen peas, microwaved the frozen potatoes, stirred it all together and voila!

The gravy was dark and thick, the peas were bright and green, the meat was fall-apart tender. It really was a delicious meal. And it lasted us the rest of the week.

I also made some pumpkin bread last weekend using the pumpkins I roasted a couple of weeks ago. Our friend Carolyn had given us two sets of mini loaf pans before Gideon was born with the thought that we could make some quick breads in these handy, single-serving sizes and freeze them so we would have them after her was born and we didn’t have the time or energy to cook.

They really are great. They're the perfect size! I made a double recipe of the pumpkin bread which made 12 mini loaves. We have half the dozen in the freezer and have consumed all but one of the other half dozen over the last week. G loves it, which is great, because he is being very fussy about what he eats lately.

But that’s another story that will have to wait until such time as I am not falling asleep at the keyboard. T.G.I.F!

Thanks for stopping by, y’all. Have a great weekend and cook something fabulous for yourself!