Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Theme Day?

You know, I've been thinking about having a theme day here at JTRS, but I'm having a hard time trying to figure out what I want to talk about besides food.

I know! How about a "William Shatner Tuesday"? Yes? No? One can never have enough William Shatner in their lives, don't 'cha know.


Monday, November 26, 2007

How'd It Go?

Well, we made it. We made it through the fuss and muss in the kitchen, the cleanup, the…ugh, leftovers. We made it through the “fun” in dysfunctional family members, Black Friday, and “The After Thanksgiving 5” (the five pounds you inevitably gain). Whew!

As I mentioned earlier, hubby and I had the day all to ourselves. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t feel your pain. I knew you were working hard, dear readers, and I was there with you in thought and prayer. I’ve been there too. Oh yes. I have.

This past year has been more than hectic for both of us, so we just thought we’d pull into ourselves and stay close to home. It was worth it and quite a treat. But since Thanksgiving is the Holy Grail of holidays for us foodies, I couldn’t let the day pass without putting in some effort.

Now, some people are pretty much forced to stay within the comfort zone of cuisine for Turkey Day. Heaven forbid you don’t make the dreaded Green Bean Casserole, or Aunt So-and-So’s favorite dressing. But I think that’s comfort in itself. There is comfort in tradition, and it’s one of the few things we can rely on and look forward to each year. I usually make a big batch of brandied cherries every year. Last year I didn’t and I thought there was going to be a mutiny. “Ye’ will walk the plank for such insufferable grog! Arrrgh!”

I think they just wanted the booze.

Others like to experiment and try new things. I’m in that camp for sure. Whether it’s a new appetizer or side dish, Thanksgiving is the one time I’m pretty much guaranteed to have a captive audience and honest feedback. So true to form, I tried two new dishes, even if it was just the two of us. The first was a Potato and Gruyere casserole; sort of like a grown-up scalloped potatoes. Second was a Tried-and-True goodie that’s been haunting The Cooking Forum for several years and I just never got around to making it. It’s called Cranberry Jezebel and I could have eaten a whole bowl by myself. Where have I been?

Potato and Gruyere Casserole
Recipe Source: Southern Living

Note: The jury is still out on this dish. I can’t decide if this was “special” or if it was a waste of a healthy wedge of gruyere. Try it; you might like it.

12 med Yukon gold potatoes
2 tsps salt, divided
2 T butter
1 large sweet onion, chopped
½ teaspoon pepper
2 cups shredded Gruyere (may sub Swiss or Cheddar)
Cream sauce

Peel and thinly slice pototoes. Bring potatoes, 1 tsp salt, and water to cover to a boil in a large saucepan. Cook 8-10 minutes; remove from heat; drain and set aside.

Melt butter in a large skillet over med-high heat, add chopped onion and sauté 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Layer half the potatoes in a large 13x9-inch greased baking dish, sprinkle with ¼ tsp of salt & ¼ tsp pepper. Top with half each of the onions, Gruyere, and cream sauce. Repeat layers once, ending with cream sauce. Bake at 350 for 1 hours and 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Cream Sauce

¼ cup butter
1/3 cup all purp flour
2 ½ cups milk
1 cup dry white whine
¼ tsp salt

Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat; whisk in flour until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk and wine; cook over med heat, whisking constantly, 18-20 minutes or until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Stir in salt.

Cranberry Jezebel

Note: This was SOOO good!

12 oz bag fresh or frozen cranberries
1 c. water
3/4 c. white sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
3 Tablespoons horseradish
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard

Wash and pick over the berries. Put water and sugars in saucepan (large enough to prevent boil over) and bring to a boil, add berries and return to a boil, cook on medium for 15 to 20 minutes from the time it returns to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cool to lukewarm then stir in horseradish and Dijon mustard. Refrigerate for a few hours at least and enjoy!

Additional Notes from others: Reduce the amount of white sugar and substitute some fresh-squeezed orange juice for some, or all of the water. I also like to add a couple tablespoons of Cointreau. Sometimes I'll stir in a little orange zest along with the horseradish and Dijon.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

This is It!

This is it. This is the time where many self-proclaimed foodies are frothing at the mouth and pacing their kitchens with nervous anxiety. There may even be a few panic attacks thrown in. Definitely exhaustion. Many are cooking for “T-Day” even as I write this post.

Me? I’ve been sick. Yesterday, I spent the entire day on the couch watching (hallucinating?) a full weekday’s worth of the Food Network. This was a rare treat for me, as I usually am entirely too busy on the weekends or weekday evenings to indulge. But thanks to a virus going around the office, I was forced to remain supine for several days straight. What better way to spend the time than to watch the unfolding Thanksgiving Day Frenzy?

Every single show was zeroed in on prepping, roasting, and baking for the big day. With the exception of Tyler Florence (he made some outstanding meatballs and spaghetti), I was fascinated by all the different bird roasting going on and varieties of stuffing and dressing. See, I could never understand the difference. I guess stuffing goes into the bird, and dressing is cooked on the outside. Maybe I’m wrong. Growing up, we always called it stuffing, no matter how it was cooked.

Alton Brown did his brining. Robin Miller cut her bird up into pieces prior, which allowed for faster roasting time. Ina Garten roasted straight on the pan (no roaster rack?). And the ever efficient Rachel Ray didn’t’ waste any time and roasted two gorgeous turkey breasts. No pieces-parts for that lady; no siree!

Speaking of Rachel, somewhere in my over-the-counter cold and flu induced hallucinations, I had a dream that I was on the Rachel Ray show. We were laughing, and she told me a joke. I responded, “Get right out of town!” and we laughed some more. Then she said, “Your face is so red right now!” and we laughed again. Then I woke up and rolled over to see Rachel on t.v.; she was grating some carrots for a leftover turkey shepherd’s pie or something. That’s some damn good cold and flu medicine!

Then there was the stuffing-dressing sessions. Rachel made “stuffin’ muffins” where the stuffing was scooped into individual muffin tins and baked. Each person got their own “stuffin’ muffin”. Then there was the onslaught of ingredients: nuts, carrots, apples, oysters, onion, celery, rice, etc. It seems stuffing-dressing can be just about anything as long as it has bread. Everyone has their own recipe. Me? I prefer my mom’s sausage stuffing, which is really simple and of course, my favorite.

Hubby and I will be having ham and scalloped potatoes. It’s just the two of us this year, as the family will be celebrating further south. Whatever you’re doing, and however you’re making it, I hope you and your family have a safe, blessed, and happy Thanksgiving.

Back to the couch!

Friday, November 16, 2007

I Don't Know Who Beatty Is...

Oh, chocolate. Oh, chocolate. You are my favorite cake flavor of all. From the moment you’re mixed into a sinful batter, to the decadent frosting, you have me dancing around the kitchen like a giddy school girl. And then, in a glimpse; I’m a woman, and have urges to do naughty things with you that involve my husband. Oh, chocolate; where have you been?

I can’t remember the last time I made a chocolate cake. There’s something about it that immediately takes me back to childhood; with smudged faces, and lots of giggling. Big, sloppy kisses. It’s no wonder that eating chocolate makes you happy; it evokes the same rush you feel when you’re in love. Sigh.

Now, I’m a pretty lucky girl. Not only does the company I work for tolerate me bringing in my baked goods on regular basis; they actually pay me to bake the monthly birthday cake. Sweet! So, this month, I had a special request to make a chocolate-chocolate cake. Where, oh where, do I start? There are a million chocolate cake recipes out there!

As it went, I started with a reliable source in Ina Garten. I like Ina. She’s elegant, simple, quality, and has an affinity for kosher salt, which is alright by me. In her latest book, “Barefoot Contessa at Home,” I found heaven in a chocolate cake recipe created by a woman named Beatty. Now, I don’t know who Beatty is, but she sure makes a mean chocolate cake! Friends, this has got to be the best chocolate cake yet. I'm talking the best I've ever had. Repeat.

I’ve. Ever. Had.

And let me tell you, in my 20 years of baking; I’ve made a lot of chocolate cakes. This cake wasn’t too rich, too sweet, or overwhelmingly chocolatey. It was simply perfect: dark, moist, had a zen balance between the icing and the cake, and was darn easy to make!

So, as I skip around the kitchen, licking the leftovers off the mixer paddle, I will leave you with this wonderful recipe. Please make it; you won’t be disappointed. Beatty, whoever you are; I thank you.

Beatty’s Chocolate Cake
Recipe source: “Barefoot Contessa at Home”

1 ¾ All purpose flour
2 cups sugar
¾ cup good cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
½ cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature (I used large)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed coffee

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two 8-inch round cake pans for baking (butter, flour, etc.). Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into your mixing bowl. Mix using a paddle attachment on low speed until combined. In a separate bowl, combine buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the dry ingredients. Next, add the coffee and mix until combined; scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans (it will be a very wet batter), and bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Chocolate Frosting

6 ounces of good semisweet chocolate (I used chips and they worked fine)
2 sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature (I used large)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 T instant coffee powder

Place chocolate in a heat-proof bowl or measuring cup and melt over a double-boiler. I used the microwave for the chips and that worked fine for me. Be careful not to introduce any water into the chocolate when melting, or it will seize. After melted, set chocolate aside to cool to room temperature.

Place the butter in a mixing bowl and beat at medium-high speed with a paddle attachment until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue to beat for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low and gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping the mixer bowl down with a rubber spatula. In a small glass, dissolve coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of very hot tap water, then add to butter mixture. Add chocolate to butter mixture and continue to beat at medium speed until thoroughly combined. Don’t whip! Spread immediately onto cooled cake.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Mean Mrs. Mustard

…Works in the shop,
She never stops,
She’s a go-getter…

I know that verse is about a woman named Pam, but I couldn't get that song out of my head when thinking of a title for this post. Ahem.

I love long weekends. One of the benefits of working for the government is the government holidays. I have tomorrow off, which is Veterans Day, and that makes for a nice, long weekend. This means I have more time to experiment in the kitchen and play with savory and spicy concoctions like mustard.

You see, I wanted to try a different approach this holiday season when it came to gift giving. For the past few years, I’ve been giving home preserved goodies in the form of jellies, jams, relishes, and salsas as small gifts for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They weren’t much, really. Just a little extra something outside of the ordinary cookie swap or holiday greeting card. It’s taken a little while to get my coworkers used to home preserved goods. I remember the first time I brought some in to give away; they looked at me like I had grown antlers out of my head. I guess people in Florida don’t can as much as they do up in the Midwest or further north, but now my coworkers snatch up any and everything I’m willing to share. They know a good thing now!

So this year, I thought I’d try my hand at mustard and maybe some other homemade condiments. Everyone loves ketchup and mustard, right? The new Ball Blue Book, “The Complete Book of Home Preserving” came out last year and included some spiffy new recipes for home preserved mustard. I decided to try the Ginger Garlic Mustard and the Oktoberfest Beer Mustard. My overall opinion of both mustards was meh. They both tasted especially bitter and not very mustardy at all. The mustard seeds I used were fresh from Penzey’s Spices, so I know the ingredient quality was there. Anyway, I’m glad that both recipes only made 4-5, 4 oz. jars, so at least I don’t have a million of these little jars to give away.

I’ve heard these things need to “age” a little while, so I’ve a little time to wait and see. If you're one of my family or friends reading this, try to act surprised when you get one of these as a gift, 'kay?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Big, Fat Juicy Ones!

When I was a little girl and went to the local Girl’s Club after school, we used to sing this really disgusting song about eating worms. It went something like this:

Nobody likes me;
Everybody hates me;
I’m gonna eat some wor-or-orms.

Big, fat, juicy ones!
Long, skinny, slimy ones!
Itsy, bitsy, fuzzy, wuzzy wor-or-orms!

Well, this past week, my friends, I ate some big, fat, juicy worms. First, they were gently poached in a sea-salt seasoned (nice alliteration!) bath. Next, they were generously tossed with some homemade pasta sauce, courtesy of Marcella Hazan, “The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking”. Finally, they were dusted with freshly grated Romano cheese, and eaten with gusto. Yum!

Are you kidding me? Actually, I decided to make gnocchi from scratch. Remember the roasted turkey from last week? Well, you have to have mashed potatoes with roasted turkey, which left me with said leftovers for gnocchi. Marcella describes how to roll the gnocchi dough on the back of a fork and then finish with some sort of flicking action, but I didn’t get the hang of it. My gnocchi came out looking like worms. If fact, I commented they looked so much like bot fly larvae that I won’t go near the things. I can’t eat them. Just the sight of the doughy little dumplings staring back at me from their Tupperware container in the refrigerator makes me want to run around the kitchen and flap my arms.

In case you’re interested, I followed a gnocchi recipe I collected from a Williams and Sonoma catalog last year. It’s pretty good, and very easy to make, if you can get over the whole worm thing.

Homemade Gnocchi
Recipe from Williams and Sonoma

4 large russet potatoes, about 2 1/4 lb. total
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. freshly ground white pepper
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, or as needed
Fresh tomato sauce for serving

Directions: Peel and prepare the potatoes as you would for mashed potatoes. Place the prepped potatoes in boiling water and cook until fork tender. When potatoes are ready, remove them from the boiling water and process through a potato ricer or chinois. It is important to have completely lump-free mashed potatoes.

Meanwhile, in a large pot over high heat, bring 6 quarts salted water to a boil. Line a baking sheet with a lightly floured kitchen towel or paper towels. Mound the potatoes on a lightly floured work surface and make a well in the center. Pour the eggs into the well. Season the potatoes with salt, nutmeg and white pepper. Sprinkle 1 cup of the flour over the potatoes. Using a fork, gradually blend the eggs with the potato mixture. Using your hands, mix the dough, adding more flour as needed to form a firm but moist dough; do not overwork. The mixing process should take no more than 5 minutes.

Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rope about 3⁄4 inch thick, flouring the work surface as needed so the dough is not too sticky. Cut each rope into 1-inch pieces and gently roll each piece on a gnocchi ridger. Place the gnocchi on the prepared baking sheet. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan over medium heat, warm the tomato sauce. Working in batches, cook the gnocchi in the boiling water for 5 to 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the gnocchi to the pan with the sauce and toss to combine. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Late to the Party

For the past year, I’ve watched the whole No Knead Bread craze from afar. I was skeptical dear readers, as is my nature when something appears to be too easy. You see, several years ago, I wanted to learn how to make bread. I mean really learn how to make a good loaf of bread. I had dabbled a little into bread making when I was a chef, but never had the chance to really get the hang of it, so I decided that it was time to get my feet wet.

Whenever I want to learn about something that really interests me, I jump in completely. I almost become obsessed. I buy and read books, I find online forums, I watch videos, I read blogs, I pick people’s brains; it’s all consuming. So, two years ago I did just that with bread. For a whole year, I made bread from scratch every weekend. The King Arthur Flour website became my favorite haunt. I nurtured poolishes, and sour dough starters of every shape and size. I bought a baking stone and a baking peel. I had a large assortment of flours and grains, depending on what I was in the mood for or what I wanted to tackle next. I had bread baking containers of every size and element. My husband was in heaven. Who wouldn’t want homemade, fresh bread every weekend?

So when I felt comfortable with what I had learned and experienced, I backed off. I never wanted to become a bread making expert, but just wanted to really learn it well. You know, just in case. But most importantly, I wanted to understand the science behind bread baking. I’m kinda nerdy that way.

So, this weekend I decided to give this No Knead Bread thing a try, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a good loaf of bread! I knew it would be good because it sang the Crackling, Cooling Bread Song after I pulled it out of the oven. What’s that? You aren’t familiar with the Crackling, Cooling Bread Song? Well, when a rustic loaf of bread is baked to perfection, it makes crackling noises as it cools; the signal to a perfect, crunchy crust. It’s a beautiful thing!

So, if you haven’t joined the party darlings, put on those cute little sling-back heels and your best cocktail dress and come on over! Fashionably late is so couture!


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