Monday, November 30, 2009

"This meat has surely been used for soup," 
said Miss Bartlett, laying down her fork.
- A Room With A View by E. M. Forster

The Ultimate Leftover

T he other night, we drove home after having spent a wonderful Thanksgiving with our friends. We were fat, happy, warm, and fuzzy... and we were toting the carcass of a 19-pound bird in a plastic bag. It is without a doubt, the ultimate leftover. It is also a very welcome and a generous gift. Wanna know what we did with it? We made turkey stock of course! Lots and lots of gorgeous golden rich turkey stock. It's so good, I may just have to start roasting turkeys... they really are so versatile (and much more flavorful than chickens). In the meantime, I'll just have to rely on the kindness of friends who know how much I value a roasted bird carcass, or to use the more genteel phraseology... a "turkey frame".

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cranberry Orange Sauce

A not-so-very basic cranberry sauce that everybody will like... even people who say they don't really like cranberry sauce. Sections of orange give it some freshness, while the zest lends zip to compliment the zing from the ginger. Make this ahead of time because it'll give the flavors time to get to know one another and more importantly, it'll be one less thing for you to do on turkey-day...


Cranberry Orange Sauce
Adapted from: Page 206, Martha Stewart Living magazine, November 2005

Monday, November 23, 2009

Colors Not Found In Nature

"It's fruitcake weather!" I can't make these cookies without thinking about A Christmas Memory, the short story by Truman Capote. Sweet, wistful, and wonderful; one of those stories that is heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. So good when done well. And this one surely is. There is an old television production of it starring Geraldine Page that is excellently done. It used to air every year around the holidays, and hopefully still does. As good as that teleplay is, it's the book that always grabs at my heart the hardest. To read the words is to be rewarded. Rewarded by the elegant writing, tangible descriptions, sweet and tender sentiment... I will read it again this year. Like fruitcake, it's tradition.

My Mom used to make these cookies when I was growing up, but it's a big job these cookies. I started making them the year I got married. I'll never forget it: I bought 6 lbs. of pecans when I needed 6 cups. We put pecans in everything that year. This year I added flour in when it should have been sugar. But it all worked out. It always does, one way or another.

Twelve dozen cookies later and I was finally done. The music on the stereo came to an end and the house was suddenly quiet. I leaned against the counter, closed my eyes and bit into one of the cookies... in that one moment was the Christmas of my childhood. I heard bells chiming. Turns out they really were! There's a church nearby that plays bells every hour. It was five o'clock. My senses and memories converged, just for one perfect moment. Every once and a while that happens. Or maybe it happens all the time and I only notice it every once and a while.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Crazy Good Crock Pot Stuffing

This is what results from having to drive 5 hours away for Thanksgiving dinner with the family, not having a working oven at home, no oven-space available at our destination, and yet... still wanting to bring something homemade towards the meal. Sometimes great things are born of these situations, sometimes disasters. This, thankfully was one of the great things.

I did all the prep the night before we left, bagged it all up according to dry, wet, refrigerated, etc. In the morning we packed it all in the cooler with ice packs, chucked the crockpot in the back of the car and hit the road.

Stuffing saves the day!
As it turned out, we didn't arrive in time to heat the stuffing up before dinner. But before you get all weepy and dejected (like I did at first), there was another stuffing already there (yes, I think they were just humoring me) so our Thanksgiving was not stuffing-less. The important thing to note here though was that there was none of that other stuffing left at the end of the day. (Can you see where this is going yet?)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Orange Oat Raisin Scones

Let's see, where was I? Oh yes, I was telling you about the afternoon tea I had with my friend...

We were treated (among other delights) with freshly baked scones. Since that day I have had scones on the brain, and it has culminated in today's scone-fest. It really should be called "baking therapy". I see that now. I was stressed, so I baked. I was stressed, so I baked two different kinds of scones simultaneously at 4:30 in the afternoon. For no reason. Yes, baking therapy. Rx: Bake two scones and call me in the morning... we'll have tea.

Cornmeal Cranberry Scones


Last weekend a friend took me out to tea. How I love saying that! Took me to tea... maybe it's the alliteration, maybe it's because I love tea so much, maybe it's because it was such a terribly lovely surprise. It's no secret, I do so love tea. Not just the drink itself, but also the preparation of it, the vessels that hold and serve it, and the traditions behind it.

Tea is the perfect thing to drink in solitude and yet is even more enjoyable when shared with someone else. Tea can pick you up when you're down, and calm you down when you're wound up. Beautiful poured into a delicate bone china teacup; comforting drunk from a hand-thrown pottery mug. The nibbles that traditionally accompany tea offer up their own kind of comfort as well, whether dainty or rustic in nature. Some things are just so right together.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pear Crostata

E xperimented on my friends again today. I don't really see them as guinea pigs, and I certainly hope they don't feel that way. Often though, I try things for the first time when asked to bring something for a pot-luck. It's that "sink or swim" method that I, for some weird reason, seem to enjoy. "I sure hope this works, because if it doesn't, there's no time to make something else". Maybe I don't have enough stress in my life. Although, if you really think about the term "pot-luck", maybe I shouldn't feel bad: Pot/dish of food and Luck/element of chance. I'm simply contributing to an ancient and cherished cultural tradition. Think about it, if I only brought dishes that were a "sure thing"... how then is the "luck" aspect to be represented?

Today I made a Pear Crostata based on my favorite Peach/Plum Crostata* recipe. Not exactly flying blind, I'll admit, but still I had no idea how the pears would act, or what proportions of stuff to mix with them, etc. My tendency is to lean on a recipe like a person with a broken leg leans on crutches. I need it to support me and take some pressure off, but eventually find that there are times when I can set it aside and hop around on one foot.

So this is me, doing my part to preserve our rich history... without crutches.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hors d'Oeurves and such

We had a most tasty appetizer at J winery in Dry Creek Valley during the Food And Wine Affair event in November of 2007 (I think)... I may have forgotten the date, but not the flavor combination: endive* with fig, blue cheese, and candied pecans. They paired it with one of their wonderful champagnes. Which one? I don't remember that either. Might be fun to try and figure it out though...

Here are a party's worth of other tasty nibbles and garnishes...
*I never know whether to say en-dive or ahn-deev. Oh well.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pumpkin Pie Time

"But we have to have pumpkin pie! It's Thanksgiving!"*
*Quote attributed to my sister.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Meatballs/Meatloaf

A Meatball Time Line:
  • Newly-married... spaghetti is a big part of our diet. Attempted the meatballs from Betty Crocker Good 'n Easy Cookbook. Unremarkable. I don't bother making them again.
  • Trader Joe's opened nearby and we opted to buy their frozen turkey meatballs.
  • My job got outsourced... shifted over to the fresh meatballs at CostCo. More meatballs for less money (and they were tasty too).
  • CostCo stops carrying the tasty meatballs... we start buying the frozen CostCo meatballs.
  • Had to tighten our belts even more*. We return to the arena of the homemade meatball and attempt to identify the secret ingredient in the CostCo meatballs that we loved**. We think caraway seed is it. Made a big batch of meatballs (>4 doz.) to freeze. We were wrong about the caraway seed. Meatballs were not horrible, but not great either.
  • Research herbs, spices and meatballs online... now believe secret ingredient to be: fennel seed. Still had a couple dozen "meatblahs" to wade through before we could try it out.
  • Time passes...
...And here we are today: We have bought the fennel seed, hit up CostCo for what seemed like a truckload of ground meats, and are ready for our next attempt. So, while my man is out front chopping wood, I am making thousands of meatballs. By evening we will be all set for the coming winter. My soundtrack? The smooth, cool, mellow and haunting double discs of Billie Holiday - Lady In Autumn: Best Of The Verve Years. I am in no hurry. I am a meatball making machine. I am in the zone.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pumpkin Chip Cookies

Pumpkin Chip Cookies
A drizzly gray November day means only one thing: perfect baking weather! I had wanted to make these cookies last week, but assumed that the recipe called for butter, which we were out of. How surprised was I to discover that there's no butter in these cookies? While I do love a crisp buttery cookie, it's nice to know that there are options out there. You know, for those times when your inner-cookie monster comes out and starts getting all demanding on you. These are soft, cakey cookies that are super easy to make and should appease most monsters. They would be a great addition to a Hallowe'en party dessert spread. And while it's a little late for that this year, it is still pumpkin season, so no excuses.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Timeless Cherry Cheesecake

When you need a simple and elegant solution for a potluck or even for your own dinner party but don't have enough time. Gather the following items:
  • 1 Frozen Cheesecake (pre-sliced if possible)
  • Pretty cake plate
  • Pretty pie server
  • 1 can Cherry Pie Filling (the goopy kind)
  • Pretty crystal or ceramic bowl
  • Pretty serving spoon
Y es, I repeatedly specified "pretty" serving pieces. That's an important part of this fake. Store-bought foods always always always look better when taken out of their original packaging. By putting the cheesecake on a pedestal with the cherries in a cut glass bowl next to it, it becomes something that is more than the sum of its parts. This really isn't a cost-cutting idea (cherry pie filling is no bargain), or even a last minute bail-out (due to the frozen-ness), it is primarily a time-saving one. It's best to buy the cheesecake the day before, so it can thaw overnight in the fridge (it's kind of hard to pull off a successful fake when the cheesecake is still frozen in the center).

Do this when you know ahead of time that you'll need a dessert and that you won't have the time to spend in the kitchen preparing one. Will everyone know that it's a fake? Certainly. But just like canned white peaches in champagne, they'll all be too busy enjoying it to care!