Sunday, October 31, 2010

This is Halloween! This is Halloween!

I'm not sure it's a good sign that it's 8am and I already can't get the song from Nightmare Before Christmas out of my head! However, if you don't already have Halloween cookies, you may need to start making them now, because in my opinion this is really a whole day affair. Between the mixing of the dough, the refrigerating of the dough, the rolling of the dough, the cutting of the cookies, the freezing of the cookies, the baking of the cookies, the cooling of the cookies, the mixing of the royal icing, the dyeing of the royal icing, the frosting and decorating of the cookies, you can absolutely keep yourself (or your kids) occupied until the witching hour.

I used Martha Stewart's Maple Roll Out Cookie recipe for the dough. It's really delicious, but a the flavor is a bit delicate and I felt it was a bit of a waste on the ghosties who needed to be drowned in royal icing anyway. Far better to save the maple recipe for something unfrosted. Also, and I'm not sure why this didn't occur to me before, but your brain is really anticipating "sugar cookie" when you bite into one, so there's always this element of "huh" followed by "Oh yeah! This is yummy!" which is perhaps a bit more mental processing than I'd like with my dessert.

What you need to know about using Martha's recipe:
I know this is probably not going to come as a surprise to you, but the lady is a liar. I made a half recipe, because being a sane rational person who is not giving gift boxes to everyone I'd ever met, I don't need
8 dozen cookies. The half recipe made 2 and a half dozen and it's probable that I rolled them too thin to try to eke out that many. And although this is certainly enough for the two of us, it's possibly fewer than you want. If do you choose to make half recipe, really try to savor the moment where you need half an egg yolk. Afterward, try to figure out who you can feed three quarters of an egg to - my answer? Ryan. You also might want to start with a shorter cook time. Mine took about 10 minutes. Blame my oven or how thin I rolled them - either way we would have been looking at some burnt treats if I'd let it go as long as her.

Colored Pumpkins, oh boy!!:
To get half your cookies pumpkin colored, separate your dough in half. Set half aside for ghosties. Then mix 5 drops yellow food coloring and 4 drops red of McCormick Assorted Food Coloring. You can blend with a mixer a bit, but do finish kneading by hand to get rid of any streakiness.

I am a complete disaster when it comes to royal icing. Seriously. Don't listen to me. I'm not showing you the ghosts that didn't come out well. Also, I made a really small amount because I didn't actually need that much, which meant whipping by hand. Stupid. Update: You'll be a happier person if you check in with Words to Eat By. Debbie knows her stuff.

Royal Icing Advice:
If you're making them for anyone who is squicked out by raw egg, or you know is a child, pregnant woman, elderly person, person with a compromised immune system, use meringue powder. I used the recipe on the back of the meringue powder container. Not fancy, but functional. I piped on details by putting the icing in plastic baggies and poking a teensy hole in the corner. Mix your color in a bowl, not the baggies, ignore anyone who tells you otherwise. They are sadists and are probably cackling evilly as they write that direction. I poured the icing over the ghosts which takes somewhat more icing than you may think. Also let that harden completely before doing eyeballs. It takes a few hours to harden.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Stars Align

You know how I'd been thinking about my repertoire, and how I didn't have enough fancy things that I could make for company? Well, about a week ago, someone was asking about for a scallop/mushroom/white wine recipe and something just clicked. Didn't my dad make some type of delicious scallop-y mushroom thing? The next night, I was a guest at my parents house and lo and behold my father was making exactly that for dinner. So for both my own purposes, and for the good of others, I followed him around as he cooked, diligently scribbling on a small scrap of paper and peppering him with questions. The result: We have a recipe! Now you (and I) can cook fancy scallops any time we feel like.

adapted from Julia Child - Julia doesn't have mushrooms. Poor Julia.
serves 4

3/4 lbs crimini/baby bella mushrooms (buttons only in a pinch) or 1 lb fresh chanterelles (if you'd like to go super upscale - DO NOT attempt with dried, it won't work)
1 1/2 lbs sea scallops
1 clove of garlic minced
1/2 C minced yellow onion
2 T shallot minced
1/4 t dried thyme
1/2 bay leaf
1/2 C flour
1/2 T olive oil + 1 T olive oil
1 T butter + 1 T butter + a bit more for greasing casserole dish
1/2 C vermouth or white wine
1/3 emmenthaler or gruyere
1 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper

Prepare your scallops. Place them in a colander and rinse, then pat them dry. Be thorough. Then carefully trim off the foot/muscle area. Halve or quarter them (depending on size), you want uniform scallop chunks of about 1". Quarter or halve your mushrooms so they are in chunks only slightly smaller than the scallops. Mince up your garlic, onion and shallot. Prepare two skillets. In one, toss a 1/2 T of olive oil and the mushrooms. Cook on medium to sweat out the liquid from the mushrooms. In the other, melt the butter and cook the onions on medium low until they are translucent (about 5 minutes), then add the garlic and shallot and cook a few minutes more, then set aside. When the mushrooms are golden and there is no liquid in the bottom of the mushroom pan (5-7 minutes) set aside your mushrooms. In another small bowl, combine the thyme and bay leaf. Grate your emmenthaler. See?

Now, back to the scallops. Season with 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper. In a large ziploc bag, combine the scallops and the flour. Gently shake to coat the scallops. Remove scallops from the bag and shake off all excess flour. Get a pan very hot and add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the remaining tablespoon of butter. When the pan sizzles with the addition of a drop of water, it's ready for the scallops. Sear for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes per side, you want a nice crust. DO NOT attempt to move the scallops before that time, or you will ruin everything. When the second side is seared and has a nice crust, add the vermouth or white wine, the shallot, garlic, onion, bay, thyme and mushrooms and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for about 5 minutes, covered. Remove the cover (and the bay leaf). The sauce should have thickened nicely, if not, reduce a bit more. Pour into a greased pyrex or casserole, sprinkle with the cheese (emmenthaler is terrific, if you use gruyere, use less as it is a bit stronger). Broil until the cheese is bubbly, about 2 minutes.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bedeviled Cauliflower Mac & Cheese

I'm not entirely sure about this, but I think I have already confessed to you that Ryan and I watch an inordinate number of cooking shows? Particularly cooking contest shows like Dinner Impossible, The Next Iron Chef, Chopped and The Next Food Network Star? Anyway, we started watching Ten Dollar Dinners after Melissa D'Arabian won The Next Food Network star a few years ago. I watch it because her recipes tend to turn out really well. Ryan watches it so he can heckle. He takes exception to what they claim costs under $10. Recently she roasted a chicken with potatoes, a side of swiss chard and made a dessert with Nutella and called it under ten bucks. Around here the going rate for a jar of Nutella is about $6.00 (yes, I know there's some serious price gouging in these parts). Even if you're not using the whole thing, you still have to shell out the six bucks to get it. Also, she always talks about proteins going on sale. Maybe it's this whole East-Coast-big-city thing I've got working, but I've yet to see sale chicken or steak. The one thing I do have though, is the dollar vegetable bags at the produce stand in Reading Terminal Market. This week Ryan scored a cauliflower for $1.50. I know, not a dollar, but it was a huge whomping cauliflower. With the cauliflower and the pasta being the main ingredients in this dish, I'm pretty sure we've got a real candidate for Ten Dollar Dinners here.

I'm calling this bedeviled because the spicing is pretty much the same as if you wanted to devil something else, like chicken or eggs.

4 C chopped cauliflower
1/2 lb medium shell pasta
3 T butter
1 3/4 C shredded cheddar cheese (use bright orange if you'd like your bedeviling to turn out holiday colored)
1 T flour
1/2 C milk
1 T dijon
1 t paprika
pinch cayenne pepper
topping: 1/3 C breadcrumbs + 1-2 T melted butter

Preheat the oven to 325F. Chop your cauliflower into shell sized florets. I use a steamer basket in a pot, and started from ice cold - it took about 15 minutes until tender. If you add the cauliflower when the water is boiling it shouldn't take nearly as long. Or maybe I just had a rough day. I'd check it starting at about 5 minutes.

Boil water for the pasta and cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain and set aside. In the pasta pot (I used a huge one), melt the 3 T of butter. Add the flour and stir well. Cook for 2-3 minutes over low heat until the flour is golden. Slowly add the milk, stirring or whisking well to incorporate the flour. Continue to stir and add the dijon, paprika and cayenne. Then slowly add the cheese until the cheese is all melted in the sauce. Add the cooked shells to the sauce and toss gently. Finally add the steamed cauliflower and again toss gently until everything is coated in cheesy goodness. Pour into a greased casserole dish (I used a 1.5 quart dish). On the stove top melt the 1-2 tablespoons of butter for the topping. Add the breadcrumbs. Toss a few times until the breadcrumbs are golden and fluffy. Top the cauliflower and shells with the breadcrumbs and bake for 20-30 minutes.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pay Attention

The other day at lunch I was chatting with some friends about how I simply feel as though I have too much to keep track of. So much in fact, that I worry that perhaps some of the things I am supposed to be responsible for will ooze out of my brain and trickle out my ears. There was a general consensus that LISTS! would save the day. "Write a list!" They said. Amateurs.

A List of My Current Lists:
to do for work (on my desk at work)*
2. daily to do (in my planner)
dinner menu for the week (Excel spreadsheet)
4. b
ooks for my book blog and which week to read them (Excel spreadsheet)
library book due dates (on my computer)
a list of my current lists (you're reading it baby)
7. a list of epiphanies I had in SuperFresh (stay with me)

*Confession: Sometimes my friend L and I keep lists for each other. So that I know what she has to do and she knows what I have to do.

It's not enough. Do you know how I know this? Last weekend, as I walked through SuperFresh, I eyed a giant display of sundae topping sauces, you know, caramel, butterscotch, hot fudge. And I had a moment of smug glee as I thought of the homemade caramel sauce sitting at home, and how I could pour it over a sundae, or dip apples in it or what-have-you. At which point I had so many epiphanies I nearly got whiplash.

1. There is no caramel sauce at home.
2. I poured all the caramel sauce into the brownies.
3. The recipe called for half the caramel sauce to go into the brownies.
4. This is why the brownies NEVER SET.
5. If it takes me TWO WEEKS to realize that I screwed up a recipe, I have TOO MUCH stuff inside my head.

So folks, today you will not be getting my version of "turtle brownies". You will get a link to She's Becoming Doughmesstic's Sea Salt Caramel Brownies with a firm admonishment to follow the damn directions. If your brain is not leaking out your ears, you could add some pecans to make them more turtle-y. I'll be here, starting some new lists.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

J-U-I-C-E spells Love

Let me tell you a love story. Once a long time ago, at a party, a thirteen year old girl with beautiful dark curls, fell into the lap of a handsome blue-eyed young man. He picked up a gold cigar band, slid it on her finger and told her he'd give her a real one someday. Six years later, he made good on his promise, and they were married. Like many couples they went through some difficult times, but their marriage lasted for over 60 years. My grampy is gone now, but yesterday would have been their 66th anniversary.
My grampy would show my nana he loved her in a million different ways. He would always call her "my bride". She loved having birds in the yard, so he would trap squirrels and then drive several towns over to release them so they wouldn't scare off the birds or monopolize the feeders. All over the house that he built, in the strangest places, there would be tiny notes, saying "Alice, I love you." She found one of them after he passed away. It was on a small light that had been mounted in a closet in their old house. But I remember one ritual he always had as one of the quieter ways he said "I love you."

My grampy was a carpenter and he woke up very early. Even earlier than any early bird, very small, grandchildren that might be visiting. Every morning he would bring my grandmother a glass of orange juice, with a tiny dish on top to protect it. When I was small, he would do the same for me. In that one small glass of juice, there were a million I love yous.

We should all be so lucky to have a love like theirs.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Simple Comfort

This is what to have for dinner if you are feeling like a fractious five year old. Or possibly what to make for dinner if you have a fractious five year old. It is not fancy or complex. It is simple and comforting. There is nothing unexpected or deep about it. Just a nice simple chicken and pasta casserole. It would be great to have for dinner if you've had a bad day.

If, for example, you'd spent a solid 10 minutes hyperventilating this morning because when you walked to where you'd parked your car, it WASN'T THERE. And you realized that not only was your car GONE, but there was NO ONE you could call for help, because your husband was in New York, or Boston, or somewhere in between New York and Boston, and your parents were in Canada and you know NO ONE in the stupid city you live in. And you couldn't decide whether you should call 911 or the tow lot first. And you knew that if (when) your husband found out your car was stolen he would say "that's it, that's enough, we're moving out of this hellhole" never mind that we have a lease, no movers and no where to go. And besides all that, HOW WERE YOU SUPPOSED TO GET TO WORK WITH NO CAR?? And about when you'd decided to head home and start calling the tow lot and 911 and your boss and possibly Canada, you walked one more block and found your poor, sad, 15 year old car tucked into a parking space and breathed a sigh of relief so great it probably reached Canada...If that had been your morning? You definitely would want this for dinner. I wouldn't know that first hand of course. I'm just guessing.

adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

1 C ditalini
1 -2 C cooked chicken breast, diced. I used one very large breast, probably yielding about 1.5 C
14 oz of canned crushed tomatoes
1/2 C onion chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T oregano
1 1/2 C shredded mozzarella cheese
2-4 T olive oil
1-2 T butter
1/4 C bread crumbs
1/4 C grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 400 F. Put a pot of water on the stove, and bring it to a boil. Cook 1 C of ditalini according to the package directions. Drain, toss with 1 T of olive oil and set aside.
Put some olive oil in a pan and bring to medium high heat. Salt and pepper your chicken and chop it into medium sized pieces, like this:Add your chicken to the pan and cook for 3-5 minutes until done, turn often. Chop into bite sized pieces. In another pan, add another tablespoon of olive oil, the chopped onions and the chopped garlic. Cook for 3 minutes until the onions and garlic and softened. Add the 14 oz of tomatoes and the oregano. Stir until mixed. Butter an 8x8 baking dish. Add the ditalini and chicken to the sauce. Add the grated mozzarella and stir until well combined. Pour into the baking dish. In a small pan, melt the butter and add the bread crumbs. Toss until they are all buttery and golden. Off heat, add the parm, then use that to top the chicken pasta mixture. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden and melty, like so:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What's in Your Repertoire?

I just finished this rather grating book Cooking for Mr. Latte by food writer Amanda Hesser. In it we are treated to her special brand of snobbery which is equally applied to food and people. The one part I was interested in was this: building a repertoire. Amanda was feeling like she never knew what to cook for dinner parties or even every night cooking, because she was always chasing after the next best recipe, the next new recipe (of course, this was when she deigned to stay in and cook, which was not often). I know that feeling myself, because as a food blogger there's almost a requirement to keep cooking new things. If I don't, I have nothing to say to all of you and then you will go away and leave me and I would cry. Also, I like trying new things which keeps me from getting in too much of a rut. But I was interested in giving some thought to my go-to dishes. What do I make for special occasions? Several times a month? Which recipes do I know by heart? In Amanda Hesser's world of fine dining I got the impression that what you cook a few nights a week and what you cook for a dinner party were the same thing, all of which require at least 10 ingredients and formal cooking school training to execute, but in my world fancy and a few times a month rarely collide.

Here's my final analysis:

Fancy Dinner
Look, I don't ever have anyone to dinner except StellaCarolyn and she's often accompanied by her husband (who doesn't eat either of my fancy dinner options) or her mother (who always has a very specific idea of what she's read about here that she wants me to make - last time it was fried chicken) thus, this is only what I make for special dinners for me and Ry.

So, either it's duck with polenta or pommes anna

or a recipe for Sea Scallops I've adapted from Ming Tsai that I've never written about here, even though I've made it for New Year's Eve several year's running. Maybe this year I'll stop to tell you about it.

Clearly, I need more fancy meals! I do know how to roast a chicken, but I never do it the same way twice, so I feel like it doesn't count.

Potluck Go-Tos
Again, my friends are not Amanda's Hesser's (also, my budget is clearly not hers), and therefore canapes with fresh pate are not in the cards.

It's Tyler Florence's Sesame Noodles all the way. They always get rave reviews, and since they don't need reheating they're perfect.

If I know things can be heated, I might bring my mother's macaroni and cheese.

Do I need to point out that I'm not invited to potlucks often? I don't think where I live is potluck country.

Weekday Warriors
I cook most days. So what gets made over and over? A few times a month?

Truthfully, the dinner I make most is breaded chicken. And it's not on this blog. Mostly it's not on this blog because I could do it in my sleep. I probably have. But when I make it, it's often because I'm so tired, and so I can't possibly be bothered to time things or measure things. It's not incredibly special, so please don't feel like I'm holding out on you.

We also eat some form of turkey burger more than once a month. I make them regular, with leeks and bacon, asian style or greek style.

And once it's fall/winter, I definitely make baked shells and sausage a lot.

I really enjoyed mulling this over and definitely see some holes I want to fill. It may require more recipe testing, but it also may require remaking some things until I feel more comfortable with them.

What about you? Do you have a repertoire? Something fancy in case you have to cook for a snobby food writer? Something you cook dead on your feet after a long day at work because it doesn't require any thing? A dish everyone begs you to make for a pot luck?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Happy October!!

I've always been a big fan of October. The World Series, livable temperatures, beautiful foliage, adorable children in Halloween costumes, pumpkins - what's not to like? I love October so much that I always try my hardest to squeeze every bit of Octobery goodness out of it. I watch Halloweeny movies to get in the mood. Over on Between These Pages I'll be blogging about all sorts of witchy and wizardy children's books. And here is the perfect accompaniment to all of my festive plans - Pumpkin Snickerdoodles. Oh yes. They are every bit as good as they sound.

a mad hybrid of Smitten Kitchen, We are not Martha with some necessary adjustments by me.
Makes an obscene 5 dozen (or a bit more) cookies. Half of mine are in the freezer waiting.

3 1/2 C flour
2 t cream of tartar
1 t baking soda
1/4 t salt (only if using unsalted butter)
1 stick of butter
1 1/2 C sugar
1/2 C +3 T canned pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
2 eggs
for rolling:
1/4 C sugar
2 T cinnamon

Preheat your oven to 400F. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the pumpkin and mix well. Add the eggs and stir until incorporated. Sift together the flour, baking soda and cream of tarter. Add half the dry mixture to the wet. Stir. Add the rest. Stir. You will now have some incredibly wet batter. It will be beautiful and orange and it will taste delicious. Stop eating it. Don't you know there's a salmonella scare people? Stay away from the raw egg!Refrigerate for 30 minutes. At least. Please. You'll thank me. Roll into small balls and roll in cinnamon sugar mixture like so:

Arrange on a baking sheet. These do not spread as much as traditional snickerdoodles, but still need a bit of space. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack. Please all your little pumpkin eaters.


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