Monday, November 30, 2009

Quoting... E.M. Forster

"This meat has surely been used for soup," 
said Miss Bartlett, laying down her fork.
- A Room With A View (1908) by E. M. Forster

The Ultimate Thanksgiving Leftover

The 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".

My Basic Turkey Stock Recipe

1 turkey carcass
1 bay leaf
2 tsp peppercorns
1 large onion, quartered
1 green apple, quartered
1 Tblsp dried rosemary
2 tsp dried thyme
1-2 pinches of other dried herbs
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
enough water to cover

Put all the ingredients into a large pot on the stove and simmer for 3 hours or... put in a crock-pot on low for 10-12 hours (or high for 6-7 hours). Take off heat and skim off fat and any floating bits. Remove large pieces with a slotted spoon and/or tongs, discard. Let cool some more and then pour through a mesh sieve. Optional: line sieve with 2-3 layers of cheesecloth or a flour-sack cloth. Pour stock into storage containers, label and refrigerate or freeze for later use.

My Notes: I planned to do this all in the slow-cooker, but once I got the cut-up carcass in the pot, I realized that there was no way anything else would fit (that was one big turkey!). Dumped everything into my big spaghetti pot with 4.5 quarts of water to cover, simmered it on the stove for 2 hours, then put half in the slow cooker. I continued to simmer the remaining half for another 3 hours on the stove and set the slow-cooker on high for 6 hours. By the time it had cooled down, it was late at night, so I combined it all into one pot, covered it and put it in the fridge, then skimmed and strained it in the morning. Yielded 3.25 quarts total.

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 are. 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... after!
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 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?)

...I cooked up my well-traveled crockpot stuffing the day after Thanksgiving and there was enough to keep up with all the other leftovers for the next three days!

Crazy Good Crock Pot Stuffing
Adapted from: Perfect Homemade Stuffing Crockpot Recipe on A Year Of Slowcooking blog; and from another recipe I found on my frantic Google search but can't locate anymore*; and also from various stuffings made over the years by the fabulous women in my family.

1 loaf of bread, lightly toasted in the oven
1 lb. Italian sausage
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup green apple, peeled and diced
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth (plus 1/4 cup, if needed later)
1 T ground sage
1 tsp ground marjoram
1/2 tsp savory
1/2 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Use a 6 quart crockpot. If yours is smaller, toss everything together in a large mixing bowl, then put into your crockpot later when it's time to cook.

Toast the bread slices in the oven at 300 degrees 15 - 30 minutes, checking often. (I didn't have an oven, so I had to toast the whole loaf in my toaster, 4 slices at a time. (I do not recommend this method except in cases of extreme emergency.)

While the bread is toasting, chop up the onion, parsley, celery, apple and dried apricots. Add parsley, celery apple and apricots to the bowl or crockpot.

Crumble the sausage and brown on the stove. Remove meat from pan and pour off any excess fat. Saute the onion in the same pan just until it starts to show color.

Add sausage and onion, seasonings, and melted butter to bowl or crockpot. Stir well.

When the bread is done, cut into 1/2 inch size-or-so cubes. Add to the bowl/crockpot. Toss it all together thoroughly. Now is the time to transfer the mixture into the crockpot if you've been using a large bowl up to this point. When the bread is coated nicely, pour in 1 1/2 cups of broth. Cover and cook on high for 2 hours.

When done, the bread will have browned a little on the top and around the edges, and it will be hot throughout. It can stay on warm for another 2 hours, if needed. Stir before serving. If you'd like it a bit more moist, you can add a 1/4 cup more or so of broth.

My Notes (Thanksgiving 2008): In the original recipe there was a bit about starting the day before and combining everything on the day of. That was what really sold me on trying this.  Everybody loved it and it was completely devoured. The sausage was plenty spicy, and I think I may use "mild" next time or a combination of the two.

*Oh, I know I've got it somewhere. This is why I started this blog... to put all this stuff in one place!

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...

Among the many delights on offer, we were treated to freshly baked scones. And ever since that day I have had scones on the brain, and it has culminated in my recent scone-fest.

Is Baking Therapy "a thing"? It really should be. 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. Then I felt better. Repeat as necessary.

Baking Therapy.  Rx: Bake two scones and call me in the morning... we'll have tea... and we'll talk.

Orange Oat Raisin Scones
Adapted from this awesome looking recipe that I would have made except that I didn't have: whole wheat pastry flour, turbinado sugar, buttermilk, or currants... but I didn't let that stop me!

3 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup (cold) butter, cut into pieces
2 cups old-fashioned oats
zest from 1 orange
1 cup plain yogurt
2/3 cup raisins
4 Tbsp sugar

Preheat oven to 350°. With a whisk or food processor, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda. Cut in with a pastry blender or pulse in the pieces of cold butter until it looks like course sand. In a large bowl, stir the butter-flour mixture with the oats and orange zest. Use a whisk if the zest is clumping. Add the yogurt and raisins and stir until it looks evenly moist.

Dump the mixture onto a cutting board and pat together with your hands, packing the dough together into a rectangle approximately 7 x 9. Using a bench scraper (or pizza wheel, or sharp knife), divide the rectangle lengthwise, creating 2 narrow rectangles. Divide each of the two rectangles into 3 squares and each of the squares into 2 triangles. You should end up with 12 triangle-shaped scones. Or pat the dough into a circle and cut it into wedges. Transfer scones onto baking sheets and sprinkle the top of each with sugar Bake for 16-20 minutes, or until tops are golden.

Notes: Very traditional crumbly scone dough. Only had pastel green sanding sugar so it looks a little odd, but, oh well! These scones are a little on the dry side, which makes them the perfect partner for butter, jam, clotted cream.... and plenty of hot 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.

Cornmeal Cranberry Scones
Adapted from this recipe that I had torn out of an old BHG magazine but couldn't make because I didn't have: buttermilk, limes, or blueberries.

1 - 1/2 cups flour
2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp brown sugar, packed
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup (cold) butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 egg
zest from a small lemon
1 cup dried cranberries (or "Craisins" if, like me, you couldn't find plain ones at the store)

Preheat oven to 450°. Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugars, baking powder, baking soda and salt (or pulse a few times in a food processor). Add the zest and whisk into the dry ingredients (or pulse a couple time in the food processor). Using a pastry blender, cut the butter in until the mixture looks like very course clumpy sand (or add it to the food processor and pulse 10 or 15 times for the same result). If using the food processor, dump the contents into a mixing bowl now.

Add the yogurt and egg and mix them together a little bit in the bowl with a fork or rubber spatula. Add the cranberries to the bowl. Working quickly, fold everything together, scraping down the side and back up with one hand and rotating the bowl with the other. Do this only until the mixture is evenly moistened. It will be wet and clumpy.

Pat the mixture into a rectangle or circle (1/2 to 3/4" high) and cut into wedges, or use a biscuit cutter. Alternatively, you can drop blobs of it onto the baking sheet for "drop scones". Transfer scones to the baking sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden on top. Make the optional icing while scones cool slightly on rack.

Optional Icing: 
lemon juice
powdered sugar
sliced almonds, toasted

Put 1/2 cup to 1 cup of powdered sugar in a small bowl and add lemon juice a little bit at a time while whisking together with a fork until thin "syrupy". Drizzle over warm scones and immediately sprinkle a few toasted, sliced almonds over each one if you like. If freezing the scones, leave the icing step until ready to serve.

Notes: In addition to not having the buttermilk, limes and blueberries for the original recipe, I also didn't really have the cornmeal. What I had was the course-ground kind for making polenta with. I measured it out and whirred it around in the food processor for 20-30 seconds. Probably could have used even more time, but it seemed to work o.k These scones are supposed to have a little crunch, right? I also used the food processor to cut in the butter (note to self: 1/3 cup is not the same as 1/3 of a stick). Instead of making drop scones, I patted the dough flat and cut out circles using an empty tomato paste can as a biscuit cutter. Ended up with 17 small scones.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pear Crostata

Experimented 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 recipes 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".

Sheesh. 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.

Pear Crostata
[[Original pastry recipe is no longer available. New recipe has been linked below]]

1/2 recipe of Prodigal Pastry
zest and juice of one lemon
1/8 cup flour
1/8 cup sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cardamom
5 large pears (or the equivalent)
1 small handful of cranberries

Prepare the pastry according to the recipe. Roll out to a 14" circle (don't worry if it's not perfectly round). Put pastry back into fridge, either on a baking sheet or loosely rolled between two pieces of plastic wrap.

Pre-heat oven to 400°. In a large bowl, mix together the lemon, flour, sugar and spices. Peel and core the pears, then cut them into 1/4" slices (or 1/2" cubes). Work with one pear at a time, dropping the slices into the mixture in the large bowl and stirring them gently every so often. Chop the cranberries (not too fine), and set aside.

Take the rolled out pastry from the fridge, and if not already on a baking sheet, center it on one now. Using your hands or a slotted spoon, transfer the fruit from the bowl to the pastry surface. Do not dump the fruit from the bowl onto the pastry! Spread/arrange the fruit evenly over the pastry, leaving a 2" border around the edge. Discard any extra liquid on the bottom of the bowl. Scatter the chopped cranberry evenly over the pears.

Fold edges of pastry inward, and lightly press the folds that form as you go around. Brush the folded edge with a little water and sprinkle with sugar. If it's warm in the kitchen, or if (like me) it takes longer than you thought it would to arrange the fruit and play with the edges, pop the whole thing (pan and all) back into the fridge for 15 minutes.

Bake at 400° for 15 minutes, then drop oven temp to 375° and bake for another 25, or until crust is nice and golden/amber colored. Let rest on pan for 5-10 minutes, then carefully slide onto a rack to finish cooling. After that, I usually slide it onto a big cutting board and cut it into wedges with a pizza-cutter.

Notes: Overall, it turned out well. My biggest complaint was that I should have made two of them. Always make more than you think you'll need. It was a little heavy on the cardamom (corrected amount is listed). The pear slices did not hold up during the careful stirring part. Next time I'll dice them instead. Try increasing the amount of cranberries and tossing them with the pears. Try ginger instead of the cardamom. Still not a fan of baking with pears. If they're firm enough to work with, they're unripe; if they're ripe, they'll fall apart and not hold their shape. They sure do taste lovely though.

*I'm noticing that all the crostati I've made use fruit that begins with the letter-"P". I was planning on trying apple next, but maybe I should use papaya or persimmon instead? Or would Pippins be o.k.?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hors d'Oeurves, Appetizers and Such

I was just reminiscing about this super tasty appetizer we had at J winery in Dry Creek Valley during the Food & Wine Affair. I think it may have been November of 2007? Well, I may have forgotten the date, but not the amazing hor d'oeurves they paired with one of their wonderful champagnes. Which one? Yeah, I don't remember that either.

It shouldn't be too hard to recreate that appetizer though. As I recall, it was simply: a leaf of endive* with a blob of creamy blue cheese, a chunk of fresh fig, and a candied pecan half on top... Perfection, especially paired with champagne!

In honor of the upcoming holiday party season, here is a selection of other tasty nibbles and garnishes to make and enjoy...
*I never know whether to say en-dive or ahn-deev. Oh well.

Monday, November 9, 2009


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.

The Meatballs:
Used these two recipes for inspiration/cook times/etc...
Totally Tender Meatballs in Tomato Sauce from TheKitchn
Caraway Pork Meatballs with Tzatziki
at EatingOutLoud

3 lbs ground beef
3 lbs ground sausage (I used Jimmy Dean)
4 eggs
8 slices sandwich bread, torn into small pieces
1.5 yellow onions (CostCo sized), minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp dried Rosemary
1 Tbsp Fennel Seed
1 tsp Caraway Seed
1 Tbsp sea salt
1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
1 Tbsp dried parsley
2 tsp ground black pepper

Mushed it all together with my hands. Used small cookie scoop to plop semi-uniform amounts of mixture onto foil lined baking sheets (24 per sheet). Rolled each mound into balls. Baked two sheets at a time for 20 minutes at 375°, swapping tray positions after 10 minutes. Let cool in pan. Roll meatballs off of their little fat puddles. Freeze on pan for 20 minutes, then drop into a large freezer bag and store in freezer. Made 4 pans of 24 meatballs (96 total), plus there was enough meat mixture left for....

The Meatloaf:
Referred to the following recipe for reassurance, time, and temp:
Basic Meatloaf, Page 495, How To Cook Everything, 1998

Added a can of corn (drained) to the excess meat and mixed it in. Formed two smallish meatloaves in loaf pans. Made a trough down the length of each and filled with ketchup, like Mom used to. Baked at 350° for 45 minutes (or to 160° on instant-read thermometer), rotating pans halfway through. They shrunk considerably. Poured off fat and juices from both, sliced and served one, froze the other.

Notes: A little too much onion; mince smaller and only use one CostCo-sized onion. Could stand more garlic, fennel, and pepper. Try fresh rosemary next time (hopefully I'll have some growing in the yard when the time comes to make more. [hint hint]). Surgical gloves would have made this go much easier. Not because of any squeamishness over touching raw meat either (I'm pretty much over that). But, once both hands are in it, you're kind of stuck if there's nobody around to help you answer the phone, turn on the tap, or touch... anything. In lieu of gloves, maybe I could put plastic baggies over the faucet handles. That would at least make it easier to wash my hands when I need to.

*This is only an expression having to do with watching our spending. We did not lose weight.
**The tasty meatballs came in a clear plastic two-bag pack surrounded by a cardboard sleeve. We separated the packs and stored them in the freezer, so the outer packaging was long since recycled. It probably just listed it as "Spices" anyway. That always bugs me. Which spices? Why don't they want you to know?

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

Time-less 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)
  • 1 can Cherry Pie Filling (the goopy kind)
  • Pretty cake plate
  • Pretty pie server
  • Pretty crystal or ceramic bowl
  • Pretty serving spoon
Yes, 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 store-bought parts.

Do this when you know ahead of time that you'll need a dessert but that you won't have the time to spend in the kitchen preparing 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).

This really isn't a cost-cutting idea (decent quality cherry pie filling is no bargain), or even a last minute bail-out (due to the frozen-ness), it is primarily a time-saving device. 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!