Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Auditions

Around here, the Thanksgiving menu changes once every few decades. I remember when I was quite small, my mother would make three kinds of stuffing. There was bread stuffing with olives onions,celery and sage (icky), mashed potato and hamburger stuffing (I think I would have a bite or two of this) and there was the good old southern cornbread and sausage stuffing. Somehow over the years the cornbread stuffing emerged victorious (thank heavens). We've gone through various pie phases as well. Although apple and pumpkin are constants, we only have mince pie when my Nana is around and we only get the heavenly mocha pecan pie if my Aunt Shirley is cooking. I know, I know, that makes it sound like we're flibbertigibbets when it comes to pie, but I should point out that the mince reigned from the beginning of my memory until sometime in the 1990s and Aunt Shirley's pie was in for the early 2000s. And now we're down to apple and pumpkin. So, it would be a rash act if I suddenly introduced rolls to our Thanksgiving table. And considering that I won't even be cooking in my own kitchen, I won't be whipping up any rolls this year. But I did audition a recipe, just in case you needed one. See how giving I am? It had absolutely nothing to do with my overwhelming desire to chow down on buttery goodness on a weeknight. Just pure selflessness. Really.

PS - You really don't want to make these on a weeknight unless it's for a special occasion. You probably don't have this kind of time. I don't have this kind of time either which is why when I tried to make them I completely messed up the timing for dinner and had to make emergency mashed potatoes just to put enough food on the table and then had to freeze and defrost the rolls the next night for baking. But we could pretend that I did that just so you'd know that yes, you can freeze them (before the rise) and then bring them to room temp, then rise them, then bake.

adapted from Cooking Light, I'd tell you which one but I tore out the page ages ago


3 T sugar
1 package dry yeast
1 C warm milk (Cooking light recommends 100F to 110F, I don't temp my milk, just don't make it so hot that you kill your yeast).
2 3/4 C flour (approximately, more for flouring your board)
3/4 t salt
3 tablespoons butter softened (I used melted).

Combine the yeast and sugar and milk. Let proof for 5 minutes. It should increase in volume. I did this in the bowl of my stand mixer. Add the flour and salt and mix until a dough forms. You can either let your mixer knead it or do it by hand. I don't think I found it sticky like they said, so I did it by hand. You want it smooth and elastic. Cover your dough with plastic and let stand for 10 minutes.

Roll out the dough to a 12 x 10 rectangle. Smear it with butter. I used a pastry brush. Then fold it in thirds lengthwise so you have a 12 x 3 rectangle. Pop it in the freezer for 10 minutes. If you use the fridge instead when you get to the next step, the butter will ooze out of every bit of the dough and you will feel annoyed.

Roll out the dough again to a 12 x 10 rectangle. Fold it in thirds again, the same way. Pop it back in the freezer (they say 10 minutes). Don't freeze for too long or you will find it incredibly difficult to roll it back out. I over froze mine at this point and there was no way in heck I was going to be able to roll it back out to an 12 x 8 rectangle. NO WAY.

Roll the dough out to an 12 x 8 rectangle. Roll it up like a jelly roll (start at one edge, roll carefully to the other edge). Pinch the crease to seal. Since there was no way I was getting a 12 x 8 rectangle I just rolled it as big as I could and then rolled like a jelly roll. No ill effects. Slice into 12 discs. Pop in a greased muffin pan and let rise 45 minutes. Then bake at 375 for 20 minutes. Let cool.

I froze my rolls before the final rise. I bring them to room temp, allow time for the rise then bake.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Farm Fresh?

I grew up in a small town, the kind that seems almost made up, with one traffic light in the center of town, and the four corners of that intersection marked with a post office, a drugstore, a bank and a church. Outside the snug one mile border of the town, in almost every direction, there were farms. The closest was nothing but a small stand run by the parents of a boy I went to school with. But there were so many others. One lay across the border in another state and had delicious caramel apples. Another one was up in the hills and felt forever away from my small child perspective. But the one we used the most had corn you could feed to the animals, a cement outbuilding with a window where you could buy fresh cider and a small red painted farm store. We would go and look at the animals, and on the way back stop and my daddy would buy me an apple and polish it up on his flannel shirt. When I got a little older, they branched out and started selling cider doughnuts, plain and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. Now that farm is packed weekends. People that moved into the subdivisions that have been slowly eating away open space pack up their children into their extra-large SUVs and descend upon my tranquil childhood farm like locusts. Last time I went I stood in a line that wrapped around the whole farm store and down the porch just to buy my cider doughnuts. I don't begrudge them their success; many local farms have been forced to sell, but I do miss the way thing were. Also sad? I read the ingredient list on the back on the doughnut bag. I don't think I could identify anything after the first three ingredients. So I think the time has come for me to part ways with the farm and their doughnuts. But I do have a back-up plan. Come next fall, expect to hear my opinion on these cider doughnuts from Smitten Kitchen.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cheddar Apple Scones

If we're talking literally here, I am a Jersey girl. I was born in Jersey and raised in Jersey. But my heart, and often my tastebuds, belong to New England. I love the spicy taste of ginger ice cream which is so hard to find outside of New England. I made pilgrimages to Herrell's. I was fed bites from my father's Jordan's blueberry muffins (although not often, my father's pretty stingy with those muffins). I would give almost anything for the recipe to Ma Glockner's Sticky Buns (well, not anything, but if you have the recipe, contact me immediately. I will send cookies. Or Sticky Buns). And although I've never really done it myself, I get the old New England tradition of cheddar cheese on apple pie. My grandmother loved it.

And yes, I will sadly acknowledge that there are many people who are now living in New England who don't know about Jordan's, or Ma Glockner's, or think the cheddar/apple pie thing is hogwash, but they're probably the same people who don't know what Dirty Water is, and can't tell you where they were in 1986 when their hearts broke (a farm house in Antietam), or where they were 18 years later when Foulke threw to first to end an 86 year drought (Cleveland Circle). And I'll tell you this. I'm not sharing my cheddar cheese and apple scones with them. Not if they get to live up there while I'm down here in exile.

adapted from SmittenKitchen

2 apples (I used MacIntosh, but I'd love to try Northern Spies)
1 1/2 C flour (plus at least 1/4 C for the board, this is a seriously sticky dough)
1/4 C sugar
1/2 T baking powder (I know, awkward to measure)
6 T cold butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 t salt (omit this if you use salted butter)
3/4 C cheddar
1/4 C heavy cream
1 egg

Peel and core the apples and cut them into 16 pieces each. Seriously. Have fun counting with that. Then put them on a lined baking sheet (I used my silpat, you could use parchment) and bake in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes. Allow them time to cool.

In the bowl of your mixer, add the butter, apples, cheese, cream and egg. Mix on low to combine. Then sift together the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder. Add to the mixer slowly, in batches. Once combine, remove dough from the mixer to a well floured surface.

Gently roll or pat your dough into a 6 inch circle. I just patted mine, no need to dirty the rolling pin. Then cut your dough into 6 equal wedges. It will now be a very delicate operation getting those scones off your counter, use a spatula if you need to, and transfer the scones to a baking sheet lined with a silpat mat or parchment paper.

Bake for 20-30 minutes (come on, you know my oven is running hot these days) until golden and firm. If you can, cool them on a rack before eating.

SmittenKitchen strongly recommends not saving them for more than 2 days. So I just froze my whole batch. They did take about 30 minutes from frozen, but if they were fresh I'd certainly want to check before that.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Dinner and Movie

I have to say, I admire my parents' style of entertaining. Back in the day, they'd have friends in for fabulous dinner parties. The next morning, while my parents and their guests were still in bed, I would pad through the living room and dining room in my jammies surveying the damage. Empty bottles of wine were lined up along the mantle; small plates holding uneaten chocolate bonbons waited on the table (fine, maybe I stole a few for breakfast). So where was I whilst all the merry-making took place? My parents hired the best babysitter money can buy - Fred Astaire (actually, he was totally free). Since TV watching was a rare treat, and eating in front of the TV, absolutely verboten, my Saturday night dinner and a movie set-up was just about the biggest treat I could imagine. My father would make me a special pasta dinner and set me up with an old musical and I'd be in heaven. It became such a tradition for me that when I was old enough to babysit on weekends instead of stay home I really missed my special movie time.

Start out with Swing Time, one of my favorite Astaire-Rogers films, and another classic, chicken with shells. And while this very first dinner and a movie post is perfect for occupying small children so that you can have an evening to yourself on the cheap, stay tuned. I'm planning on featuring some of my favorite movies and meals that would perfect accompaniments, because even though I'm a grown-up now I still love settling down to a delicious dinner in front of a terrific film.

serves 2

1 large breast of chicken
6 slices bacon
1 C frozen peas
1/2 lb shells
1/2 C chicken stock
1/4 C - 1/2 C cream
2 T butter
1 T olive oil
1/4 C Parmigiano-Reggiano

Chop the bacon into medium sized squares. Cook in a skillet for 5-7 minutes or until crisp. Set aside. Then raise the heat to high and add your tablespoon of olive oil. Sear for 2 minutes per side, then add the 1/2 C of stock and reduce heat to low and cover. Cook for about 5 minutes or until cooked through. When it's done remove it from the pan and let it stand for a few minutes so the juices don't all run out when you cut it. After it has rested cut it into bite sized pieces. Cook the shells according to the package directions. When they're done drain them quite thoroughly. Make sure to shake them a bit to get the water out. Then melt 2 T of butter over them and mix gently to coat. Cook off half the chicken broth, then add 1 C of frozen peas and cook them for 3 minutes. Add the 1/4 C of cream and the chicken to the broth and peas. Add the shells and 1/4 C parm. Add the bacon. Mix gently and serve.


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