Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Post-Thanksgiving Post

Oh, I forgot something else on our Thanksgiving menu. Again, some credit goes to Bobby Flay for insisting that you should always start the meal with soup of some kind. Partial credit should also go to a hilarious young blogger (the niece of one of my PBGV friends) whose Thanksgiving dinner always includes her grandmother's mushroom soup. Here's my own take on it:

Cream of Mushroom Soup

4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
24 oz. crimini mushrooms, washed and sliced
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, peeled and cracked (or 1/2 teaspoon granulated)
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 cup white wine, optional
1/2 cup flour
4 cups beef or pork stock
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce (a few shakes, to taste)
bunch of thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 cups half-and-half
salt, to taste

Melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Saute the mushrooms, onion and garlic clove with a pinch of red pepper flakes until the onions are soft and the mushrooms start to brown. Deglaze with white wine, if you like, scraping up all the browned bits. Let the wine almost completely cook off. (If you choose not to use the wine, just move directly on to the flour.) Add the flour to the mushrooms and cook for a couple of minutes until it starts to take on a golden color, stirring frequently.

A little at a time, add the stock, stirring constantly. When all the stock has been added, and the soup is uniformly smooth, shake in some Worcestershire sauce, throw in a bundle of thyme (or dried), add the pepper, the half-and-half, and salt to taste. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 20-30 minutes to let the flavors meld. If the soup becomes too thick, add more half-and-half or stock as you see fit.

*You may also use a stick blender to whiz this all up, but I prefer sliced mushrooms in mine.

Before I wrap up this Thanksgiving follow-up post, I have one turkey leftover idea for you: TURKEY CAESAR SALAD!  Start with mixed greens, leftover turkey, sliced olives, shredded parmesan, Cardini's Caesar dressing (there is no substitute!), and instead of croutons, top the salad with leftover french fried onions from that green bean casserole you probably made. Not exactly low-cal, but crazy good!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Very THANKFUL this year!

I have SO MUCH to be thankful for! Since this time last year, I have been blessed to move into my own home, my BFF and roomie, Cyd, returned from living in MN for over a year, and I have survived both cancer and a serious car accident. And I am so very grateful to God and to faithful friends who have sustained me through it all. HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYONE!

Having said all that, I'm not really one for going all gourmet crazy at Thanksgiving; I'm very much a traditionalist. We went to my friend Lee Ann's, as we often do on the actual day, and they have all of the traditional fare. I was assigned an hors d'oeuvre and a chocolate dessert, so I took an easy appetizer called Swiss, Bacon and Tomato Bites (the recipe is from a friend at work, originally from Pampered Chef, that I amped up with a little minced garlic) and a classic French silk pie.

I also brought along some of my one experimental dish this year, inspired by Bobby Flay and one of my blogger friends, Kitchen Mage: cranberry-blackberry-jalapeno chutney. (Ooh...let that idea marinate in your thoughts for just a moment!) This was based on a blueberry habanero chutney that Cyd and I love, especially on grilled salmon and pork chops. But I thought I'd Thanksgiving it up with cranberries. The addition of blackberries was thanks to recent episode of Bobby Flay's "Throwdown." It turned out so well, I think it's the start of a new Thanksgiving tradition!

As for the home menu that we prepared for Black Friday, we brined and roasted a 22-pound beast of a turkey that Cyd bought from a co-worker who raises them, made a sausage, sage and veggie dressing, the Pioneer Woman's decadent mashed potatoes, homemade gravy (of course--there is NO substitute!), green beans with bacon, brussels sprouts for Cyd (ick), and we had some delicious leftover pumpkin cheesecake that we brought home from Lee Ann's. YUM! I hope you all enjoyed your holiday, too!
Cranberry-Blackberry-Jalapeno Chutney

2 onions, chopped
2-4 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup orange juice
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 lb. fresh cranberries
1 lb. frozen blackberries

Combine the onion, at least two of the peppers (for a pretty mild sauce), vinegar, orange juice, sugar, salt and pepper. Simmer until the liquid is reduced to about 1/3 its original volume.

Add cranberries, blackberries, and more jalapeno to taste. Simmer gently until thickened and jammy-looking, stirring every minute or so to avoid scorching. Let cool before serving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

God Save the Beets!

My beloved friend Jay has a husband named Greg, and they have a darling little four-year-old boy named Clark. Jay is a writer and works from home, and Greg...well...Greg (like Chandler Bing) has a job that nobody really understands, but has something to do with computer systems training and causes him to travel a lot all over the world. Usually Jay and Clark hold down the fort at home in Chicago, but recently, they got to accompany Daddy Greg to London for two weeks. While there, Jay sampled a cake made with beets that had a poppyseed glaze that he really fancied. It sounded quite vile to me, as I loathe beets, but Jay said it really tasted very similar to carrot cake, but without the heavy cream cheese frosting, which he feels can overwhelm a cake. (Baker's Note: Jay is ridiculous in this opinion! The only reason to eat carrot cake is for the cream cheese frosting...SHEESH!)

Nevertheless, I took up the challenge to help Jay recreate a beetroot cake back home across the Pond. I found a recipe from Nigel Slater online, and I converted it to American ingredients and measurements from British. Other than needing a little more sugar (to suit our American tastebuds) and a tad more salt, my cakes turned out quite tasty, and as Jay promised, with very little beet-y flavor. I amended the recipe to reflect the necessary additions, and here's what I ended up with:

Beetroot Cake with Poppyseed Glaze
(Source: adapted from Nigel Slater on Tender Recipes)

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (I swapped out one cup of white whole wheat)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar, packed (I used light)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/8 cups raw beets, grated (I used red and golden beets, about one pound total)
juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup sultanas or raisins (ick! optional!)
1/2 cup mixed seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, linseed)

for the icing:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
lemon juice or orange blossom water
1 tablespoon poppy seeds

Set the oven at 350F. Lightly butter a rectangular loaf tin (20cm x9cm x 7cm deep, measured across the bottom) then line the bottom with baking parchment. (I just used flour-added spray on a glass pan, and it came out perfectly.)

Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon. Beat the oil and sugar in a food mixer until well creamed then introduce the beaten egg yolks one by one, reserving the whites for later. (I did this in a regular bowl and whisked by hand.)

Grate the beets coarsely and fold into the mixture then add the lemon juice, raisins or sultanas and the assorted seeds. Fold the flour and raising agents into the mixture whilst the machine is turning slowly. Beat the egg whites until light and almost stiff. Fold gently but thoroughly into the mixture using a large metal spoon (a wooden one will knock the air out).

Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake for 50-55 minutes, covering the to with a piece of tin foil after 30 minutes. Test with a skewer for doneness. The cake should be moist inside but not sticky. Leave the cake to settle for a good 20 minutes before turning out of its tin on to a wire cooling rack.

Make the icing. Sieve the powdered sugar and stir in enough lemon juice or orange blossom water to achieve a consistency where the icing will run over the top of the cake and dribble slowly down the sides (about one tablespoon), stirring to remove any lumps. Drizzle over the cake and scatter with poppy seeds (I just mixed the poppyseeds into the glaze and poured it over). Leave to set before eating.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cookies to Restore Sanity

My dear friend June's birthday is only two days after mine, so we sometimes celebrate together, usually on the last weekend in October. But this year, June and her family were travelling to Washington, D.C. to attend Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity (and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Keep Fear Alive) over that weekend. I desperately wanted to go, but I was in that awful insurance limbo period where I didn't have a car. (I was driving my saintly roommate's car to get to work every day, but I wouldn't trust it all the way to D.C. and back!)

So I stayed home and watched it on the big screen and made a batch of chocolate chip cookies to celebrate the event. (If any food was going to restore sanity, I feel it would be a good chocolate chip cookie, don't you?) As it turns out, I may have been in the preferred situation, because even though June and her family had fun partying in the unseasonably warm weather with other spirited and kind-hearted moderates bearing amusing t-shirts and posters, there were SO MANY people in attendance that they couldn't even see the stage. June kept calling me to find out what was going on via the television. LOL! As for the cookies, they turned out quite well. I tried a new recipe--one with vanilla pudding in the mix to add flavor and keep the cookies tender. I read many of the over 500 reviews and made some changes accordingly--they are noted below.

Mom's Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Source: adapted from Allrecipes)

1 cup butter, softened (I used 1/2 butter and 1/2 shortening)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar (I reduced this to 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup white sugar (I used 1/2 cup powdered sugar)
1 (3.5 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I increased this to 2 teaspoons)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I reduced this to 2 cups)
1 teaspoon baking soda (I added 1 teaspoon baking powder)
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional but helps cut the sweetness)
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (I cut this back to 1 1/2 cups)
1 cup pecan pieces (optional but delicious!)
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (I dropped this down to 350.)
2. In a mixing bowl, cream butter (and shortening, if using) and sugars. Add pudding mix, eggs and vanilla. Combine flour and baking soda (and baking powder and salt, if using); add to creamed mixture and mix well. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts, if using.
3. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. (Mine took 12-13 minutes at 350.)
Yield: 27 cookies using a regular cookie scoop

A couple of weeks after June's birthday, we FINALLY got around to celebrating her properly by going out to a nice dinner, and then going back to her house for coffee and dessert and board games.  Since I had to prepare the dessert on Thursday night after teaching an evening class, it couldn't be anything too elaborate. But I made some special cupcakes to honor my friend who hails from New Orleans and who loves the pairing of coffee and chocolate (as do I)! I started with the time-honored Hershey's Black Magic Cake recipe, then made a coffee cream cheese frosting, and topped the cupcakes with sliced almonds. They turned out pretty darn delicious, if I do say so myself. Happy (belated) birthday, June!

Louisiana Mud Pie Cupcakes

Black Magic Cupcakes:
(Source: Hershey's)

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa (1/4 cup black cocoa)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
2 eggs
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Line muffin cups (2-1/2 inches in diameter) with paper bake cups.
2. Combine dry ingredients in large bowl. Add buttermilk, eggs, water, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes (batter will be thin). Fill cups 2/3 full with batter.
3. Bake 15 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from pan. Cool completely. Frost. Makes 30 cupcakes (I got 27)

Coffee Cream Cheese Frosting:

1/2 cup/1 stick butter, room temperature (no substitutions!)
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 tablespoons instant espresso mixed with a little hot water
pinch of salt
4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted (more if needed, must be sifted)

Whip together the butter and cream cheese until uniform and light in texture. Add the vanilla, espresso mixture, and salt and blend again. Mix in the powdered sugar at first on low speed, then until completely smooth on medium speed.

*Top each cupcake with a generous amount of frosting, then garnish with a big sprinkle of sliced and toasted almonds before serving.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

More tragedy....and a little comfort.

Suffice to say, this has not been my year. I've already shared about my recent health crisis, but along with losing my mother almost five years ago, this next tragic story rounds out the top three worst things that have ever happened to me. So my 2002 Ford Focus wagon finally gave up the ghost when the electrical system went haywire. It always had been a little funky, but it was past the point of no return when it got stuck in park, and I had to bypass the safety feature with a screwdriver every time I started the car. It was probably going to cost more to fix it than it was worth, so I decided it was time to suck it up, face the inevitability of a car payment, and go buy something new and fully functioning.

I was excited to discover that a car dealership in town had changed over to selling Kias, and I had my eye on a cute little Java-colored Kia Soul Exclaim with all the bells and whistles, including a moon roof, which I had always wanted! I fought a tough battle with the salesmen, and I finally took ownership of the car on Monday evening, October 20th. And coming home Thursday evening, October 22nd, I totalled it. Yep, that's right. And though I've never caused an accident before, it was my fault.

I was travelling on a rural highway that had just gone from four lanes to two when I saw two cars parked on the shoulder with all their lights on. At first, I thought a police officer had someone stopped, but I didn't see any flashing lights. So then I thought someone had broken down and the other car had stopped to help. In either case, it was dark, and I couldn't see where the people were standing, so I moved over to get out of the way in case they were standing outside of their cars, as I didn't want to hit anyone. I don't know if I wasn't used to driving a larger car or if I had forgotten that I only had one lane or what, but I swerved too far over and hit the guy in the oncoming lane. THANK GOD neither of us was seriously injured, but the cars were another story. Oh well, that's why we have insurance, right?  Things can be replaced; people can't.

When you're feeling low, sometimes you just need a comforting meal. It may not make everything all better, but it sure helps in the moment. So I decided to make a big pot of a hearty beef barley soup, and to go with it, I made a very simple but tasty brown bread from a James Beard recipe that my sweet friend, Phil, sent me. And for dessert, I cheated and made a cake from a mix--Betty Crocker's Decadent Supreme Cinnamon Swirl. But it was pretty darn good, I must say. In fact, I'd say it tasted very close to a Cinnabon in cake form! And it went a long way to soothing the physical and emotional bruises of the unfortunate car accident.

Beef, Barley, and Mushroom Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. sirloin steak
2 tablespoons steak rub (or enough to coat the meat)
1 large onion, chopped
2 large stalks celery, chopped
4 carrots, diced (I used 3 carrots and one parsnip)
1 lb. crimini mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes in puree
6 cups beef stock
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 bundle thyme (or a teaspoon of dried thyme, if you prefer)
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup medium (not quick-cooking) barley

In a 5-qt. Dutch oven, heat the olive oil. Coat the steak(s) with your favorite spice rub, then brown the meat in the oil. Remove from the pot and add the chopped veggies (except the garlic). Cook for a few minutes until the mirepoix becomes tender and starts to brown. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two.

Meanwhile, slice up the steak and add the pieces (and any juices) back into the pot. Pour in the crushed tomatoes and the beef stock, and add the seasonings. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer for a couple of hours until the meat is almost as tender as you'd like. Add the barley, bring back to a boil, and simmer for another hour, give or take. Check seasoning and serve piping hot with a slice of hearty bread.

Myrtle Allen's Brown Bread
James Beard, Beard on Bread (1973)
Yield:1 loaf

3 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour, preferably stone ground
1 1/2 packages active dry yeast
2 cups warm water (100ºF to 115ºF, approximately), divided
2 tablespoons molasses
1 tablespoon salt

Put the whole-wheat flour in a large mixing bowl and place in a warm oven (a gas oven with the pilot light on or an electric oven set as low as possible). Both the flour and the bowl should be warm when you make the bread.

Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of the warm water, and blend in the molasses. Let proof. Add another 1/2 cup water. Combine the flour, yeast mixture, and salt. Add enough warm water to make a wet, sticky dough (about 1 cup or more according to the flour). Put directly into a buttered 9 x 5 x 3-inch bread tin. Cover, set in a warm spot, allow to rise by one-third its original size. Preheat the oven and bake at 450ºF for 50 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from the pan and leave on the rack in the turned-off oven for 20 minutes more to give a crustier finish.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Amish Reflections

So this is a post about Columbus Day weekend, and I know that it's WAY LATE, but I feel like I've been treading water just to keep on top of everything this semester. Teaching seven classes and doing a round of chemo every three weeks has been a challenge, to say the very least, but I am finally DONE WITH TREATMENT (YEE-HAW!), so now I can play catch-up with some stuff that I've had to back-burner for awhile, like my poor little blog. Thanks for your continued patience...

Even though it was came right on the heels of chemo #4, I decided that I didn't want my treatments to keep me from enjoying a school holiday. Still, I didn't feel up to doing anything extremely taxing, so my roommate and I decided on a quickie driving tour of Philadelphia and the Amish Country in Lancaster County, PA. We had a very nice time, despite the fact that the fall color had yet to reach Pennsylvania. In fact, the day we visited Philadelphia, it was almost 80 degrees!

Of course, the first thing we did after checking into our motel was to go in search of the ultimate cheesesteak, but what we found was the sandwich that Philly SHOULD be famous for, the roast pork with broccoli rabe, specifically at Tony Luke's.

The next morning, we enjoyed a walk through the Reading Terminal Market and had breakfast at the Down Home Diner (featured on "$40 a Day" with Rachael Ray). 

In the afternoon, we saw the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall because, well, you have to.

Then that night, the Food Network theme continued, as we decided to visit the Italian Market area, and we dined at this joint called Villa di Roma that had been around for decades and had been in an episode of "Throwdown" where their meatballs bested Bobby Flay's. We had spaghetti and the famous meatballs and a decadent quattrocini alfredo (pasta alfredo with spinach and bits of prosciutto). But the best thing was this appetizer that the waitress talked into--fried spears of asparagus with a lemony, buttery dipping sauce. YUM!!

The next day, we headed west to the land of the Amish. I had always dreamed of visiting what I imagined to be a very quaint and homespun region, but as it turns out, it was pretty kitschy. The only way to escape all the tourist traps (many of which we dutifully visited--my favorite was Kitchen Kettle Village, like a theme park based on canning!) was to get off the main highway, turn off the GPS and just drive! We took in glorious scenery that way, and encountered places like September Farm in Honey Brook where we bought some delicious cheeses, and the Bird in Hand Bake Shop (don't you just love the lyrical names of the towns?), where we loaded up on rye bread and whoopie pies and snickerdoodles and sticky buns and shoofly pie. Oh, and we bought some of the BEST local milk to wash (some of) it down rich and flavorful from those Amish cows, no doubt! And clearly, we chose an excellent and authentic place for lunch (Yoder's in New Holland) because we were seated next to these lovely people of whom I snuck a verboten picture! ;-)

Before we headed home the next day, we stopped at Stoltzfus Meats in (wait for it comes...) Intercourse, PA to pack our coolers with lots of delicious meats and cheeses. They were also selling their homemade sausage chowder which looked wonderful, but it was $8 a quart! I thought to myself, I can make a whole purple Dutch oven full of sausage chowder for eight bucks! So when I got home, I devised the following recipe that I thought turned out very well. It's a sausage, corn and KALE chowder, because I happened the have some kale hanging around that needed to be used.  Plus, I thought the soup needed something green and healthful.

Sausage, Corn and Kale Chowder

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb. sausage (I used sweet Italian)
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 sweet pepper, seeded and chopped
4 carrots, peeled and cut into large dice
4 large potatoes, washed and cut into chunks
1 16 oz. bag frozen corn
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon ground sage
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons worcestershire sauce
2 cups fresh kale, stemmed and torn into small pieces
1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
1 cup half and half
salt, to taste

In a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium heat, brown the sausage in the olive oil along with the chopped onion, celery,and pepper. When the sausage is no longer pink, add the carrots, potatoes, corn, stock and seasonings and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender. Use a potato masher to mash about half of the potato chunks to thicken the chowder. Stir in the kale, and add the milk and cream. Add salt to taste. Simmer uncovered until the liquid has reduced a bit and the kale has wilted.

*I did not do it (yet), but I think a couple of cups of shredded cheese melted into the chowder would be delicious, too! I'm thinking a swiss like emmental or gruyere.