Monday, December 24, 2007

Twas the Night Before Christmas...

Six years ago, my aunt and uncle and cousin, moved to the town where my parents live. This was fabulous, not only because they are some of my favorite relatives, but because my uncle is a seriously good cook. And one of my favorite holiday traditions was created, Christmas Eve dinner.
Each Christmas Eve he would showcase his talents, and manage to accomodate the increasingly complicated dietary restrictions of our family, by making an amazing buffet.
Sadly this year, they are all enjoying Christmas in their new, beautiful home in Seattle, but my mother and I are still cooking up a storm.
Here's our Christmas Eve menu. I'll do my best to pass along recipes as the night goes on.
Christmas Eve Dinner:
Gruyere puffs
portobello mushrooms stuffed with artichokes, mushrooms, parmesan and garlic
deviled eggs
phyllo triangles filled with apples, bleu d'Auvergne, chopped walnuts and a drip of honey
spanikopita (cheese and spinach pie)
meat and fish
chorizo in puff pastry
Alsatian onion tart
garlic shrimp with fried polenta
pork pies
wok-smoked duck quesadillas
ham biscuits


Let's be honest. Dough is not for everyone. Yesterday, I sat reading Nora Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman, and right there in the middle of the chapter What I Wish I'd Known is: There is no point in making piecrust from scratch. Now Nora Ephron is a very rich and reasonably famous woman. She wrote When Harry Met Sally and has written and directed quite a few similar movies. Perhaps for Nora Ephron there is no point in making pie crust from scratch. I mean, if I had that kind of money, I could commission pie crusts to be made for me, regular doughs, pate brisees, pate sucres, magical shrink-proof tart shells. But I am not Nora Ephron. And for me, the alternative to making my own pie crust is some the stuff I can purchase in the refrigerated section of my grocery store. And I firmly believe that I can do better than that. And you can too. And it isn't even that hard. You can skip all those new-fangled fancy recipes that invite you to spritz the crust with vodka. All you need is your mother's oldest, most well-loved cookbook. You can borrow my mother's if you like. It doesn't have a binding anymore, and I can't say as I've ever needed to make Liver Sausage Balls or Crab Spaghetti Casserole, but the Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook sure knows it's dough.

adapted from pg. 565 of the 1964 edition of the Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedia Cookbook

2 C all-purpose flour
pinch salt
2/3 C butter - chilled and sliced
4 to 6 (or more) T of ice water

Mix together the salt and flour in the bowl part of your stand mixer. Add the slices of butter and mix together until it reaches a sandy or pebbly texture. Add the water, only a small portion at a time, mixing in between until the dough holds together well. I don't measure my water anymore, just pour small bits from the pitcher. How much water you need will depend on so many factors, including the weather, that it's impossible for anyone to give you exact information on how much you'll need. So go slow (because it's harder to add flour back in, although it can be done), and when the dough becomes a nice ball, take it out of the mixer. Cut the dough in two and shape into flattened disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to roll out. When rolling out the dough, flour your surface well and move the dough frequently. I use 90 degree turns every few rolls to keep it from sticking, you can also flip sides.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Bolognese Sauce - just the thing for a cold winter's night

Sadly, for most of us, the times you are most in need of comfort foods are the same times when you are least likely to have them. You are exhausted or sick or cranky from a crap day at work, and cooking is the last thing you feel like doing, not to mention, most comfort foods require tons of prep work and epic cook times. On one of these such nights, I took a Tyler Florence recipe from Eat this Book and thought I'd see if I could do without. Without cooking it as long as he said, without making enough to feed an army, without making fresh pasta from scratch myself.

Luckily for us, it turns out that you can edit major chunks of time from this recipe and still have a delicious dinner. I've never made it the way Tyler suggests, so if you have a few extra hours lying around, try them both and compare, but as it is, it's delicious.

adapted from Tyler Florence's Pappardelle Bolognese in Eat this Book

olive oil
1/2 an onion, finely chopped
1 carrot peeled and finely chopped (make sure it's really small, you don't want to be biting into giant hunks of carrot)
1 celery stalk finely chopped (I never use this, Ryan hates celery)
2-3 garlic cloves minced
1 pound ground turkey
1/2 cup dry white wine (I use vermouth)
1 28-oz can of whole peeled tomatoes crushed by hand plus 1 c or more of the liquid in the can.
1 c chicken stock
kosher salt and black pepper
1/2 c milk

In a large pan, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped vegetables and cook about 10 minutes until they are soft but not browned. Raise the heat and add the ground turkey. Brown the turkey, breaking it up into chunks with a wooden spoon. When the meat is no longer pink, add the white wine and simmer until evaporated. Then add the tomatoes, their liquid and the chicken stock. This is where you have to make a decision. The more liquid you add, the longer you'll have to cook it before it's ready to eat. I usually use all or nearly all the liquid in the tomato can plus the one cup of chicken stock and leave it for about 20-30 minutes. After 20 minutes check it, if it seems thick enough, go ahead an add the milk and simmer for another 20-40 minutes. You can probably get away with the lower end of that, but I often just leave it to simmer until I'm ready to eat, so it often goes about 30-40 minutes.

Boil up some water, cook your favorite pasta according to the package directions. I like rigatoni or shells or penne with this, but I know everyone has their own favorite. Drain the pasta and pour over the sauce.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas Cookies Episode 1: Gingerbread

I've never made gingerbread men before. I've always wanted too, but we never had a real gingerbread man cookie cutter. We had a gingerbread policeman (don't ask), but no regular man. So a few years ago I bought a cute little cookie cutter with the best intentions of turning out a full army of the little guys. Never happened. I had no recipe, a crowded, crazy pre-christmas schedule, a family of mice living in my stove, [insert excuse of your making here], etc. But this year, I was determined. Some kind friends pointed me in the direction of a gingerbread recipe that would actually taste spicy and gingery. And so I was finally able to have my little family of gingermen, along with whales, crabs and of course, the traditional Christmas octopus.

I used Martha Stewart's recipe: Basic Gingerbread Cookies. The recipe was great with one little tiny caveat. Whatever you do, DO NOT bake these for 20 minutes. I used regular cookie cutters, rolled to the proper thickness, and checked the first batch at 15 minutes. They were a bit overdone. I'd recommend 10-12. 20 will most likely set off your smoke alarm, and unless you're hoping to meet a dashing young firefighter for the holidays, I'm recommending you avoid that.

I iced using Royal Icing, truly a fascinating substance. This recipe makes about enough to tackle any home spackling projects you might have lined up, and will dry sufficiently hard for that use as well. If you have no experience using royal icing, I would advise much practice cutting holes in your plastic bags and squeezing things through the tip, because we eventually scrapped the faux pastry bag idea, poured the stuff in a bowl and applied using skewers as paint brushes.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Alsatian Onion Tart: Good News, Bad News and a Special Treat!

I always used to eat my vegetables first. Who are we kidding, I still do, nothing’s changed. I’m a big fan of getting things over with. So bad news first: I have been longing to make this Alsatian Onion Tart as soon as I laid hands on Baking with Julia. I was pretty thrilled throughout most of the preparations, but as I smeared the soft, sweet onions over the puff pastry dough, it hit me. This is not dinner. Lovely in a rustic sort of way, and promising to be delicious, yes. But dinner? Nope. Absolutely not substantial enough to be a meal. The good news is, I think it would make a fabulous appetizer for a party if you cut it up into nice bite size pieces. It is sweet and buttery rich. In fact, I’m packing up the leftovers and bringing them to my mother’s for snacking on during tree decorating. I’m thinking about making it for our Christmas Eve dinner. I’m planning cocktail parties, just so I can serve it again. But it is not dinner.
Alsatian Onion Tart
adapted from Baking with Julia

2 -3 large onions chopped (I know it sounds like a lot. I used 1.5 and was sorry it was so skimpy).
1 cup chicken stock
4 slices bacon chopped
1 sheet puff pastry dough, defrosted and rolled out to the size of a large cookie sheet or thereabouts
½ cup shredded gruyere cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350. Put the onions and chicken broth into a pan over low heat and cook for 30 minutes until the onions are very soft. Drain off any extra liquid (I had none, but Julia says to do it, so if you have extra liquid…) In a separate pan, cook the bacon. Don’t let it get too crisp, because it will be going back in the oven, and you want them non-charred. Roll out the puff pastry dough until it’s very thin, 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. This will keep the dough from rising, which is what you want.Transfer the dough to a large ungreased cookie sheet (or a pizza stone I suppose).Spread the gruyere over the dough. Add the onions and spread the onions all the way to the edge. Top with the bacon. Cook for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Surprise Treat: Palmiers
So, it turns out that the Alsatian Onion Tart only requires the use of one puff pastry sheet. And honestly, who’s going to wrap the other sheet up and stick it in the freezer when you could be using it to make palmiers instead!
Recipe halved from Barefoot Contessa
1 C of sugar
1 sheet puff pastry dough
pinch salt
Prehead oven to 450.
Pour half the cup of sugar on the surface you will be using to roll out the dough. Lay down the dough and then pour the other half of sugar on top. Spread the sugar all over the top of the dough, the goal being to coat the dough with sugar. Roll out the dough to a 13x13 square. Then fold the two outside edges in towards the middle so they go halfway to the middle. The fold them again so they touch in the middle, then fold one more time so all the layers are stacked on top of each other. Cut into 3/8" slices and put cut side up on your baking sheet. The recipe tells you to use parchment paper, but I don't own any so I went with out. Lucky for you, things were awfully chaotic in the kitchen when I was making these, so I got to test out several different methods. I have learned: Pepperidge Farm is not kidding when they say not to cook puff pastry in a toaster oven. It heats up far to unevenly. Bad call. Also, if you have a light colored baking sheet (as opposed to your older, deeper gray to black ones), it makes for lighter colored (urm, Not Burnt) palmiers. Cook for ~6 minutes on the first side, and then flip and cook another 3-4 minutes on the other side. Cool down on a baking rack.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Focaccia Watch - Day 2

Dough as nature intended, without buttered plastic wrap

If you have a sure-fire way to butter a plastic wrap, do tell. Personally, I had a devil of a time even getting the plastic wrap to detach itself from itself, much less smearing it down with butter. You know actually, I don’t want to hear it. It’s unclear I can associate with anyone who thinks they can do better than I did, and I definitely can’t associate with you if you are a master plastic wrap butter-er. Best to keep it under your hat.

Day two was not very exciting. Sadly, neither was the fruit focaccia (although that’s just my personal take on things. Ryan seems pleased, and I’m still waiting to hear back from another expert taster.) I just expected something more from a two-day project, you know? I give and give, and what do I get? Bread with raisins and cranberries in it.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Baking with Julia - Fruit Focaccia

Be honest here, do you own a cookbook that tells you how to make a wedding cake? Not something you can use as a wedding cake if the bride and groom were homemade, home grown, “make me a wedding cake and that will be my wedding gift” kind of people, but an actual Glorious Wedding Cake? Well I don’t. Because I don’t actually own Baking with Julia yet. But I will. Oh yes, I will. From the moment I first paged through it, I was entranced. I mean, I had never seen a cookbook before that went on for 289 pages before casually throwing in a recipe for a Glorious Wedding Cake (and yes, it includes marzipan decorations). Seriously people, I have a best friend who was at one point, a professional baker. I’m fairly sure she can bake a Glorious Wedding Cake (her grandmother also knew Julia Child, so don’t go comparing yourself to her, you don’t need to give yourself a complex) . But this cookbook assumes that I need to know how to bake a wedding cake, that YOU need to know how to bake a wedding cake. I am giddy with power. I can bake anything. Sadly for all of you, I did not choose to bake a wedding cake. For one, no one I know is getting married. Also, I’m not a huge fan of marzipan. Not wanting to let you down too much, I picked Fruit Focaccia. Don’t worry. It’s just a bread that takes 2 days to make. Perfect for a novice baker like me. Right?

Day 1 Baking Advisory: Have a cocktail and some self-restraint.

No matter how bad it looks, do not throw out the dough (I considered it, believe me). Always trust Julia over a packet of yeast; and when you get to the part in the recipe where it actually says “Now comes the messy part,” you might want to take a moment, step away and enjoy a stiff drink before continuing. By the time Igot to the messy part (adding the fruit to the fruit focaccia for those who were wondering), my dough was shiny and hard, not soft and batter-like (as advertised) and my mixer was not extremely hot (as threatened). When I incorporated the fruits, I truly felt in my heart, Nothing good can come of this. But after much spatula wielding, poking, prodding and cursing, I gave up, threw the whole darn mess in a buttered bowl and hoped for the best. And you know what? By the end of the rise (incidentally that was three and half hours later), everything looked exactly as promised. How it tastes? Well for that, you'll just have to come back tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sheep in Wolf's Clothing

The loaf shaped dessert cake has long meant one thing to me - pound cake -intensely rich, a dangerously decadent treat. But all that has changed. Behold the lemon cake.

I can already see you puckering up your lips. But you don't have to, it's not that lemony. It's very delicate. Something to have a slice of with tea. Or for breakfast, if you're my husband. Even though I've made it a few times now, I'm still always surprised at exactly how light it is. And I'm excited for the summer, because come raspberry season, I'm doubling this recipe and baking it in round tins, adding some lemon curd filling and some raspberry filling and making into the showpiece it deserves to be. But for now, it's one tasty non-threatening treat.

adapted from Barefoot Contessa, episode Going, Going, Gone
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plain yogurt (I used non-fat)
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided (1 cup for cake, 1/3 for glaze)
3 extra-large eggs (I used egg-beaters)
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice + 2 T
Preheat oven to 350.
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Mix. In another bowl, mix together the yogurt, sugar, eggs and lemon zest, and the 2 T of lemon juice (save the 1/3 of a cup of juice for later). Slowly add the dry ingredients and whisk until incorporated. Add the vegetable oil and fold in with a spatula. Pour into a greased and floured loaf pan. Cook for 50 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. Right before it's done, mix together the 1/3 C sugar and 1/3 C lemon juice on low heat until it's clear. Set the finished cake on a baking rack and pour over the glaze. (I actually ended up glazing all sides of it, because I like the lemony part). Allow to cool.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese, in which I am so tired, I nearly ruin dinner.

You know I don't really cook from a recipe right? I scan the list of ingredients, say "hmph" a few times when things aren't to my liking and then read the directions through and go with it. This is not because I am some incredible master chef, Oh no. This is because I am lazy. And tonight, it meant that when I was casually adding the cayenne pepper, I added a titch too much. You know, just enough so that sitting here 10 minutes after sampling a taste of what was supposed to be a nice, warm, soothing comfort-food dinner my lips are still burning. Honestly, my intentions were good. I was going to give my lazy version of this incredible butternut squash mac and cheese recipe that girlymae introduced me to. I'm sure her original is heaven itself, because up until today my lazygal's twist was pretty gosh darn delicious. But I've never made her original. Why? Because I am lazy. Also, very tired. So you know what? You're going to have to do the work tonight. I'll give you an updated recipe from girlymae and tell you my shortcuts, and then you're on your own, got it?

as made by your lazy, lazy blogger

1 butternut squash LAZY ALERT: I use frozen winter squash (about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 packages, and defrost in the microwave
1 pound elbow macaroni
4 Tablespoons butter
1/3 cup flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon dry mustard LAZY ALERT: I have no dry mustard, I use jar mustard
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg plus more for sprinkling
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper LAZY ALERT: Do NOT over cayenne your dish, no matter how tired and lazy you are.
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 4 cups)
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock LAZY ALERT: I've never added the stock, maybe because the cooked winter squash has more liquid naturally than a real squash? I dunno.
1 slice of bread LAZY ALERT: I use bread crumbs from a can. About a half cup.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Slice squash in half and discard seeds . Peel one of the squash halves and cut into 1-inch cubes. Spray the half and the chunks with cooking oil and sprinkle with a little nutmeg. Place the squash half, cut side down, on a baking sheet and scatter the squash chunks next to it in a single layer. Roast for 45 minutes until very tender.

While squash is cooking, make breadcrumbs by putting 1 slice of bread in the food processor and pulsing until it creates fine breadcrumbs. Set aside.

After removing squash from the oven, reduce the heat to 350.

When squash has cooled, set aside the chunks of squash. Peel skin off the squash half and discard. Puree squash half in food processor until it has a smooth consistency. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt generously. Boil pasta to al dente - about 6 minutes. Drain pasta and set aside.

Melt 3 Tablespoons butter (set aside 1 Tablespoon) and slowly stir in the 1/3 cup of flour to form a paste.

Off heat, SLOWLY whisk in 1 1/2 cups of milk. Return to medium low heat until sauce fully blends and thickens.

Add pureed squash to the thickened sauce.

Add mustard, salt, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper. Stir in 3 1/2 cups of cheese (set aside 1/2 cup for the topping) and 1 cup of stock, alternating cheese and stock by cupfuls. Taste sauce, adjust seasonings if needed.

Combine pasta, squash chunks, and cheese sauce in a large casserole dish, toss to coat evenly.

Melt the remaining Tablespoon of butter and blend with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese and the breadcrumbs to form topping. Sprinkle mixture over the macaroni.

Place macaroni uncovered in a 350 degree oven until cheese sauce is bubbling and breadcrumb topping is lightly browned, about 20 minutes.
(Serves 8, leftovers freeze well if you're so inclined)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Greek Burgers

After a long few weeks of eating food provided by others (my mother, my husband, various restaurant chefs, the vending machine at work) or eating no food at all (thank you work, for making it difficult to impossible to eat over the last 2 weeks), I have finally returned to my home, my kitchen, my stove and lucky for you, my blog. So tonight, I had to gently ease my way back into cooking. And a triumphant return it was.

I love greek burgers. I mean, I finished mine about 15 minutes ago, I'm full, and all I can think about is when I'm going to eat my next greek burger. Which is pretty high praise for a dinner that was created because I ran out of yellow onion one day. GREEK BURGERS
1 package ground turkey
1/4 C red onion diced very fine
1/4 to 1/3 C kalamata olives pitted and diced
2-3 oz feta cheese crumbled
1 tsp oregano
salt and pepper
olive oil
Pour a small amount of olive oil in a small non-stick pan. Saute the onion over medium-low heat until it is soft and translucent. Add salt and pepper to taste, keeping in mind that the olives and feta are both salty. Add the oregano. Turn off heat, and mix well with the ground turkey meat. Allow to cool if you're planning on using your hands. Mix in the olives and the feta. Form patties. I get 4 big patties or 5 smaller ones depending. Heat up enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a cast-iron pan (alternatively, you could do this on the grill, I have no grill). and heat pan to medium. Add the burgers. Cook 4 minutes and flip. Cook 4-5 more minutes until done. Serve on a bun with lettuce, tomato, more red onion, whatever you want!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Better Biscuits

When I was 12 or 13, most normal girls my age were experimenting with crimping irons and doing their best to deplete the ozone layer by shellacking their bangs as high as they could. I was dreaming of being Scarlett O'Hara. And since a 17" waist and a Georgian plantation were out of the question, I was left to try to reclaim my southern heritage by baking biscuits. I stood in the kitchen, meticulously cutting the butter into the flour mixture using two knives, oh yes, I shunned the high-tech world of the mixer back then. And even though they were the first thing I'd ever baked completely unsupervised, those biscuits turned out wonderfully, and I continued to make them using the same recipe, until about a month ago. Now 18 years is a long time to be faithful to a recipe, so you have to understand just how incredible this new recipe is. Because I have thrown over those biscuits of my youth and I am not looking back. And if you have a problem with that, well, frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.

original recipe found on Epicurious - Cheddar Dill Biscuits modified to be plain biscuits:
2 C flour
2 t baking powder
1 t sugar
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
5 T cold butter
3/4 c plain yogurt (yes, I use low fat or non-fat)
1/3 c milk
Mix dry ingredients together well. Blend in butter until it has a pebble-y consistency. In a separate bowl whisk the yogurt and milk. Then add the yogurt milk mixture to the rest and mix until the dough just holds together. Spoon heaps of dough onto a baking sheet - the recipe says it make 12, I usually get 14-15. Bake at 400 for 12-15 minutes.

Incidentally, I've made this both with too much (1 Cup) and too little (2/3 C) yogurt. And both times it's still been wonderful. How's that for forgiving?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Easiest Onion Tart You'll Ever Make

Quiches and tarts are not inherently difficult to make but with the sauteeing of ingredients, making the crust and mixing the custard, they can end up being a giant pain in the you-know-what. This tart is different. It doesn't have a million ingredients. Just the basics, done right. And it is heavenly.

1 large onion (maybe even a tad wee bit more than this)
1/2 to 3/4 C grated cheddar. (Now I'm usually all for adding more cheese to anything, but I've only ever made it with 1/2 C and it's seemed right).
2 eggs (or 1/2 C eggbeaters - that's right, I didn't even use real eggs)
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 T fresh thyme (use less if you're using dried)
1 recipe crust
Slice the onion so that you have long strips of onion, not a dice. Add a T of oil to a non-stick pan on low heat. Cook the onion until carmelized, this can take 20-30 minutes, you can make the crust while it's happening, if you're a good multi-tasker. Onions are carmelized when they turn a golden brown and taste very sweet. Make sure the heat is low, or they will start to crisp up on you, which is not what you want at all. When they're done, add salt and pepper to taste, and the thyme. Put in a bowl and mix with the cheddar and the egg mixture. Pour into the crusts.

I cook mine in the toaster oven at 350 for 25-35 minutes or until the center is set and the crust is browned a bit. If you try it in a regular oven I would probably increase the heat slightly, but feel free to share what worked for you.

Here's the crust:

1 C flour
1 T sugar
pinch salt
1/3 C butter
4-6 + T of ice water
This is a million times easier with a KitchenAid mixer. Cutting shortening/butter in by hand is no fun. So, mix together dry ingredients in the mixer. Add butter (still cold from the fridge, make sure it's not warm or room temp) in small chunks (I tend to cut my in tablespoon sized slabs). Mix until the whole mixture has a coarse sand or pebbley consistency. And this is where it gets hard. Add water. The amount you need varies based on where you live, the weather, the mood of your crust. You'll need to learn to add enough that it all holds together as a dough, but not so much that it's a wet mess. Go slowly, mix carefully. I don't measure anymore. I pour straight from my Brita of ice water into the mix (while the mixer is running) and see if it becomes a ball. I separated it into 4 small disks (because of making the mini-tarts) and let it refridgerate while I was grating the cheddar and finishing the onions. Then I rolled each out, and stuck it in the pie tins.

Sunday, November 4, 2007


See, now that's what the cider-gingerbread spice cake is supposed to look like. Pretty, yes?

Failure and Redemption

I'm just now getting around to writing about Thursday's dinner, things have been a bit hectic around here. Also, I wasn't so sure I wanted to share with you yet another failure. But it wasn't all failure, so for the sake of impending Thanksgiving dinners everywhere, I'll share with you orange dinner number 1,548 - Sweet Potato Soup with Pumpkin Pie for dessert. Clearly, I'm only eating orange foods these days. Maybe now that it's getting deeper into November, I'll branch out. Maybe.

So, I came home on Thursday, and immediately set about figuring out my
new! improved! pumpkin pie plan. I had these delicious spice cookies, and I felt that they would make a delicious and more interesting version of the graham cracker crust. So I promptly whipped one up, popped it in the oven and set about reinventing pumpkin pie filling. About 10 minutes later, I pulled out these delightful looking treats. All of the crust had crept back down the sides and pooled at the bottom and the whole mess was slightly blackened. So after a few heart-wrenching moments and a phone call to my mom, I decided to scrap the whole bunch. Which made me wince, because I can't bear throwing out perfectly good food, but then again, you might argue that a burnt solid mass of cookie crumbs does not qualify as perfectly good food. With the filling already mixed, I didn't have time to experiment with another crust and went for the old standby crust I've been making since I was twelve. With my trusty crust, I managed to turn out some slightly sad looking little pies, which people kindly proclaimed "interesting." What they really meant was: This doesn't taste like what I'm used to, and I am so much in shock I cannot possibly give you my actual thoughts on whether or not this is tasty. After eating a few of them myself I can tell you that they are indeed, tasty, but not very related to the standard Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. Which is good to know if you plan on making this ever. Considering the fact that I managed to peel my thumb and burn a finger during the making of this meal, it really is a godsend that I managed to fix the sweet potato soup recipe so that it is no longer a sweet potato broth. See I told you it wasn't all failure.

1 recipe crust - see below
1 can packed pumpkin puree
2 T + 1 t maple syrup
1/3 T molasses
1/4 C brown sugar
1/4 t ginger
1/4 t cloves
1/4 t cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
1 C whipped cream (I felt this was a little much, maybe try 3/4 cup?)
2 eggs
Mix all ingredients together. Pour into pie crust. Cook at 425 for 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350 cook for 40-50 minutes more.

1 C flour
1 T sugar
pinch salt
1/3 C butter
4-6 + T of ice water
This is a million times easier with a KitchenAid mixer. Cutting shortening/butter in by hand is no fun. So, mix together dry ingredients in the mixer. Add butter (still cold from the fridge, make sure it's not warm or room temp) in small chunks (I tend to cut my in tablespoon sized slabs). Mix until the whole mixture has a coarse sand or pebbley consistency. And this is where it gets hard. Add water. The amount you need varies based on where you live, the weather, the mood of your crust. You'll need to learn to add enough that it all holds together as a dough, but not so much that it's a wet mess. Go slowly, mix carefully. I don't measure anymore. I pour straight from my Brita of ice water into the mix (while the mixer is running) and see if it becomes a ball.

1 c onion diced
1 leek (cleaned by soaking the rings), sliced
1 carrot peeled and diced
2 bay leaves
2 large sweet potatoes (peeled and cut into 1/2" or 1/4" cubes)
2 garlic cloves minced
1 large regular potato (same as above)
salt and pepper
1/4 C white wine (or vermouth)
4 C chicken broth (or veggie, if you want it to be vegetarian)
1 C water for thinning (at the end, if needed)
butter/olive oil
sour cream (for topping at the end)

1 recipe buttered pecans (see below)
Add a few T of butter or olive oil to a large pot. Add the onion, carrots, leek, garlic, bay and salt and pepper. Cook over medium until vegetables are soft and translucent. Use the wine or vermouth to deglaze. Then add the potatoes (sweet and regular) and cover with chicken broth. Simmer for 20 minutes or until a fork goes into the potatoes easily. Remove the bay leaves. Puree mixture in a blender (I use an immersion blender). It may take a while to get smooth. Check the consistency, if it's a bit thick or lumpy, add the cup of water, and reblend until it's smoother. Pour in a bowl, and top with a big dollop of sour cream and some buttered pecans.

Add a few T of butter to a skillet on low-medium. Add the pecans (maybe a bit under a cup) and stir until well coated. Let cook about 5-10 minutes. Be careful not to burn them. Not that I've ever done that. No not an expert chef like me!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Dinner Candy

The Boston Red Sox are World Series Champions, again. I have much to be grateful for. Like the Sox beating the Rockies, and also, not having children. Because if I did have children, they would inevitably be referring to this as my squash period and would spend much of their adolescence recounting tales of how mom made them eat all this disgusting squash and swearing they'd never eat it again. I wouldn't know anything personally about the extent of emotional scarring that can occur due to overexposing children to something like maybe zucchini or classical music, but I've heard it can get ugly. Thankfully, I have nothing to worry about. I can wallow in the glory of my favorite team being the best in baseball while eating what basically amounts to dessert as dinner: Fresh Fettucini with Roast Butternut Squash and Brown Butter and Sage. I adapted this recipe from one in Donna Hay's Off the Shelf Cookbook, because as it turns out, finding a pumpkin to cook is a lot harder than you think. I went in search of a "pie pumpkin" which are supposedly little and tasty. I got a lot of weird looks, and also helpfully informed by one supermarket employee that he was pretty sure that some of the pumpkins out front didn't have faces already painted on them. He then offered me canned pumpkin puree, which as you might guess, isn't my top choice for cutting into cubes. Fortunately, the recipe is pretty darn good (if not crazy sweet) with the squash.

1/2 lb fresh fettucine
1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed (.5 inch cubes maybe? a titch smaller?)
3-4 T butter
fresh sage leaves (maybe 6-8 leaves - stems cut off)
.5 cup grated parm
olive oil
salt and pepper

Spread the cubed, peeled squash on a baking sheet, toss with olive oil and salt and pepper. Cook at 400 for 30 minutes, or until a fork goes in easily. When the squash is almost done, boil the pasta water, and cook the pasta according to the package. Add the butter and sage to a skillet, heat at medium until the butter is a rich brown color. Drain pasta, top with squash and parm then pour the butter and sage over top.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


A baked stuffed squash - "Brilliant!" I thought. What better vessel to fill with the flavors of fall than a squash? All those rich, earthy tastes mingling in the oven. Problem is, I'd never cooked a squash, didn't know where to buy one, and found out a little late in the process that your pickings among online baked stuffed squash recipes are pretty slim. Armed with absolutely nothing but vague craving I went to the farm stands that are set up around a nearby square. I walked away with two very small sweet dumpling squash. Entirely unconvinced that what I'd bought was even intended to be used as food, I went to the local produce store and invested in that familiar, comforting squash - the butternut. I felt better. I'd just about settled on a stuffing of sausage, onion, mushroom and wild rice, to be topped with provolone cheese, when I came upon this recipe and became obsessed with the idea of sausage and blue cheese and thyme. In the end, there was no reasoning with myself, and after I'd popped the squash in the oven, I ran out to buy blue cheese. And therefore, we have squashapalooza. Refusing to bow to sanity, I made 2 different kinds of baked squash and stuffed each with two different stuffings. Now, this can't be done without consequences, and sadly, you all are the ones to suffer, because my recipes are hazy at best. But hey, I know what else is out there and you might even end up grateful.


pre-heat oven to 450 , cut squash in half, scoop out seeds and all stringy matter, melt 1 T of butter and brush the flesh of the squash with the butter. Place squash face down on a foil covered baking pan. Cook for 50-80 minutes depending on the size of your squash. It can be done a tiny bit before the fork goes in smoothly if you want, because it's going back in for 10 minutes later, but I found it easiest to just let it cook completely.

1.5 sausages, casing removed (I used hot turkey sausage)
.5 C onion diced
1 T olive oil
.75 C homemade croutons - I used 3/4 of a deli roll
.25 C blue cheese, crumbled - I like blue d'auvergne
salt and pepper to taste
fresh thyme
drizzle of honey

DIRECTIONS: heat olive oil in a non-stick pan, add diced onions and cook until soft and translucent. Add salt and pepper, cook a minute or two more, and set aside. Add sausage to the same pan (don't even bother to clean, you like lazy don't you?) and brown. Break apart the sausage with a wooden spoon as you go. Drain sausage, add to cooked onions. While everything is cooking you can make the bread crumbs. Cut up a roll into crouton sized chunks, toast. Mix toasted bread, sausage, onion, with crumbled blue cheese, drizzle of honey and a few teaspoons of fresh thyme.

1.5 sausages, casing removed ( I used hot turkey sausage) - check labels to ensure gf
.5 C onion diced
1 T olive oil
.75 C mushroom diced (I used baby bellas)
.75-1 C wild rice cooked
1 T fresh sage, chopped
.75 C mixed grated provolone and mozzarella - shred your own or check labels, some pre-shredded cheese contains gluten
DIRECTIONS: heat olive oil in a non-stick pan, add diced onions and mushrooms and cook until onions are soft and translucent. Add salt and pepper, cook a minute or two more, and set aside. Add sausage to the same pan (don't even bother to clean, you like lazy don't you?) and brown. Break apart the sausage with a wooden spoon as you go. Drain sausage. Mix sausage, onion, cooked rice, sage. After stuffing squash (see below) top by pressing provolone and mozzarella on top.

After the squash has finished cooking, scoop a bit out of the squash and mix well with the filling. Leave enough squash to hold the edges up, the skin is very soft after this much cooking. After mixing the squash with the stuffing of your choice, spoon it back into the squash. Put it back in the oven and cook for 10 more minutes until nice and melty.

Both are delicious, the wild rice one really tastes like Thanksgiving and the blue cheese stuffing is sweet and salty goodness. So far, Ryan prefers the blue cheese stuffing in the butternut squash, but we haven't tried all possible combinations yet, so the final verdict is still out. Also, both of these can be made vegetarian simply by leaving out the sausage. Make some extra mushrooms or something. I've forgotten to add the sausage many a time with no ill effects.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Purple Pasta

If I ever invite the artist now(and formerly) known as Prince to dinner, this is totally what I'm serving. Because it's purple. And I don't eat other more famously purple foods, like eggplant. But this was really good comfort food, and I'd totally make it again (like when Prince comes over), and it made me inexplicably happy to eat such a happy looking meal. I'm really quite relieved it worked out so well, because I'd heard that purple cauliflower loses its color when you cook it, but mine was glorious thanks to some lemon juice (the acid helps preserve the color). And yes, you can make it with the boring white stuff, but don't expect anyone too ooh and aah before they even take a bite. That's reserved for those of us who can find the pretty.

1 head purple cauliflower (or boring white cauliflower)
4-5 T lemon juice (probably only necessary if you're using the pretty cauliflower)
2/3 C bread crumbs
1 T olive oil
1 T butter
3 cloves garlic
4-5 strips bacon (I use turkey bacon) - obviously omit this if you want a vegetarian dish, or use some type of bacon substitute)
2/3 lb penne
~2 t salt
1 t red pepper flakes
parmigiano reggiano cheese
Prepare bowl with lemon juice. Cut the cauliflower into florets (discard stem, or use for something else). Put florets immediately into lemon juice and toss well. Prepare a pot to steam the cauliflower in, make sure that the steamer isn't actually in the water. Steam cauliflower for 2 minutes (if purple, which cooks faster, cook a bit longer for white maybe 3-5). You want the cauliflower to be done before it's mushy, absolutely. Take out, set aside (I covered, I have no idea whether or not this was critical).

Start boiling water for pasta, add penne and 1 t salt. Cook until al dente.

In a non-stick pan, melt butter and heat olive oil. Add bread crumbs and toss with spoon until all fat is incorporated, cook for 1-2 minutes. Set aside. Chop up bacon into bitesized bits. Cook until crisp. Add garlic (minced) and cook until golden. Add the cauliflower and cook for about 2 minutes on low. Add 1 t salt.
When the pasta is done add it and mix well, also add red pepper flakes.

Grate some parm into the bread crumbs and mix well.

Serve pasta/cauliflower top with bread crumbs. Yum.

Monday, October 15, 2007


Let me just tell you, when Game 3 of the American League Championship Series is about to start and your beloved Sox are on, you really can’t shovel food on your plate fast enough so that you can get out of the kitchen and back in front of the game. Later you will regret this, when Dice-K has given up a two-run home run to Kenny Lofton, but it will be too late.

I had been thinking out a nice blog entry for you, explaining all about my personal feelings on Emeril raking in the big bucks for marketing what is a combination of pretty basic household spices as “Essence” and how to make Ina Garten’s heavenly polenta recipe into something that will not cause Great-Aunt Myrtle to have a heart-attack on the spot and that despite the high fat content of the recipes, I really do find Ina's Barefoot Contessa Family Style Cookbook indispensable, but after putting together tonight’s dinner, all I really want is a kitchen with decent ventilation and a way to see the TV from the stove.

So here’s dinner in a hurry, courtesy of two of the Food Network’s shining stars. You go make something nice to eat. I’m going to go hide under the bed until the Sox are in the lead again.

1 lb Shrimp - Peeled and Deveined
~ 1 T "Essence"
Olive Oil
2 1/2 T paprika
2 T salt
2 T garlic powder
1 T black pepper
1 T onion powder
1 T cayenne pepper
1 T dried oregano
1 T dried thyme
DIRECTIONS: Coat bottom of non-stick pan with olive oil. Turn on heat to medium-high.
Toss the shrimp with "Essence" until evenly covered. Add shrimp to pan. Cook shrimp 3-5 minutes per side until cooked through.

POLENTA (adapted from Barefoot Contessa Family Style)
1 T butter
1 T olive oil( + enough to coat pan for frying) 

2 cloves minced garlic 
2 C milk
1 C chicken broth

1/2 C water
1/2 t salt 

1 C cornmeal
1/2 C grated cheddar 

flour or cornstarch for dusting (use cornstarch if you'd like it to be gluten free!)
Heat oil and butter in a saucepan until melted. Add the garlic and cook on low until golden. Add salt. Add milk, chicken broth and water and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and sprinkle in the cornmeal, whisking all the while. I cannot emphasize the "sprinkle" part enough. Anything more will result in big clumps and your arms will get tired trying to whisk them out. So just do it right the first time. After the cornmeal is incorporated, cook over low heat, stirring constantly until thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat again, stir in cheddar. Pour into a pie plate and smooth the top. Refridgerate until firm and cold. This can take a few hours. So it's not the best weeknight dinner unless you get home early, like I do. But it is great for company, because you can do most of the work ahead. Okay, so once it's cold, slice in wedges, like a pie. Dust each triangle with flour. In a cast-iron pan heat oil. Cook triangles on medium-high to high heat for about 5 minutes per side. Don't overcrowd the pan until you are an expert flipper, or you'll end up with some pretty squished triangles and they will not be pretty. Still tasty, but not pretty. But maybe that's better for you, because you can eat your mistakes and not have to share them with the company. So go ahead. Overcrowd the pan.

Oh and sorry there's no picture, but it didn't show up on my camera. I took one. You can ask Ryan. He sat there patiently not eating waiting for me to shoot the food. But I got nothing. Some days are like that. Even in Australia.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Beauty's Only Skin Deep

Today I made my one of my favorite fall desserts, apple cider gingerbread bundt cake. It is moist, sweet, spicy, apple-y and very hard to stop eating. Luckily, it's not even that bad for you! The recipe is from Cooking Light, so all this fall goodness is yours without the guilt. The only trouble I've ever run into is that certain brands of molasses result in the cake cooking up with a slight bitter aftertaste, but most people don't even notice this. Usually, the cake comes out beautifully, but today I was left trying to resmoosh the top part back on after it refused to part ways with the bundt pan. Ah well, at least it still tastes delicious.

Hey - want to see what it looks like when it's all pretty? Click here!

Source: Cooking Light November 1998
Yield: 16 servings

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup apple cider
1/2 cup apple butter
1-1/3 cups shredded peeled Granny Smith apple (about 1 apple)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup egg substitute or 1 egg white

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt. In your stand mixer, combine granulated sugar, molasses, cider, apple butter, vegetable oil and egg or egg substitute in a large bowl. Mix on medium speed until everything is incorporated. Slowly add the flour mixture, mixing well to incorporate. Add apple; beat well. Pour batter into a 12-cup Bundt pan coated with cooking spray. They are seriously not kidding about this cooking spray. I've made this many, many times and it's only stuck once, but boy did it stick that time. I think I totally forgot to spray it that time. Bake cake at 350°F for 55 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes; invert cake onto a wire rack and remove from pan, and cool completely.

My Pot Runneth Over

I love Sara Moulton. When I first started watching cooking shows, hers didn't interest me, because honestly, she hasn't really got a fabulous stoveside manner. But after awhile I realized that none of that mattered, because she was good at what she did. Really good. And moreover, her recipes actually turn out. And so I was totally excited to make Sweet
Potato Soup With Buttered Pecans

Now, I can fit suitcases in the trunk of my car like none other (ask me about the time I drove from New Jersey to Connecticut with 4 passengers, a cat, and all their assorted luggage in a Honda Civic), but sadly, my spatial prowess does not extend to liquid measures.
And so I ended up with about a quarter inch between the top edge of my soup and the top edge of the soup pot. But did I transfer the soup to another pot? Hells no. I just smacked a cover on it, and watched it closely. What can I say, it was a long week at work. Turns out, there was only a minimal loss of liquid due to boil over. Also turns out, this is a bad thing. I poured some off to a second bowl in order to let my immersion blender work its magic, but at this point, I was feeling mighty skeptical. You see, the recipe called for a ratio of liquid to potato that was far higher than any I've ever seen in a soup recipe before. And I didn't question it, because it's Sara Moulton, and she does not screw this kind of thing up. And after blending? Too soupy. I ended up adding back in only the solids of the part I'd poured off, and that helped thicken a little, but in the future I will definitely not be using all 7 1/4 C of liquid.

The upside is, that even though it was a little brothier than I would like, the soup was delicious and I will make it again. And hey, with less liquid, it might even fit in the pot.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A Watched Pot...

Most of the time, what I cook is edible. If I chose to flatter myself, I'd say some of what I cook is damn tasty. But I never have mastered rice. Maybe it's genetic. My mother is an excellent cook, and yet, I can recall smoke detectors blaring, swear words emanating from the kitchen, blackened pots soaking in the sink, all for the sake of that starchy side dish. And so generally speaking, I don't make rice.

But last night I was craving rice pudding; so armed with my father's recipe I faced my fears. Stage one went okay. I got the rice to absorb the water, nothing stuck to the bottom of the pan, all was going according to plan. But with the addition of the milk, things got messy. After the first boil over I made sure to keep a closer eye on things. Which is hard in the dark. Living in a pre-war building has its benefits, but top-notch electrical circuitry is not one of them. So leaving my husband in the kitchen I went out to flip the circuit breaker. While out in the hall, my exuberant terrier pounced at the door, locking me out. So there I am, in the hall, with a pot full of boiling milk and rice on the stove. Right. Or a pot with some rice-y goop on the bottom and stovetop full of milk. So after wiping up the stove, relighting the pilot lights and pouring out rice pudding 1.0, I went back to work.

The second try was much more successful. Again the water/rice absorption went smoothly, and nudged along by my constant supervision and stirring, I eventually even got the milk absorbed into the rice, creating a creamy mixture. After spending nearly an hour and half standing over the stove, I was relieved, firmly believing my troubles behind me. I added the vanilla, eggs, sugar and cinnamon, poured the whole thing in a baking dish, and stuck it in the oven.

45 minutes later, I opened the oven, ready for the sweet taste of success. And pulled out a very nicely browned rice bread.

Ah well. Some things never change.


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