Sunday, November 30, 2014

Settlers of Chazy Lake

Literally YEARS ago (four maybe?), I asked for and received a board game for my birthday, Settlers of Catan. But the instruction booklet was so thick and intricately detailed that everyone was sorely afraid and no one would play it with me. When I was complaining about this at some point, my friends, Joanna and Donnie, told me that their family plays, and that their son, Josh, was particularly good at being the explainer/moderator. Thus, we have been saying for a couple of years now that we should get together and play when Josh was in town. Well, it FINALLY happened! Tonight, the Jacksons invited me and another dear friend, Tracy, over for a rousing post-Thanksgiving evening of Settlers of Catan. They made the poor newbs play as a team, but Tracy and I didn't do too badly for our first time. We managed to build a few settlements and a city, but that dreaded robber kept thwarting our expansion plans. Still, they told us that we came in second place out of four teams. YAY! And I enjoyed the game. It's kind of like Agrarian Monopoly.

Of course, the real reason to get together with friends is the smorgasbord of snacks, especially as the Jacksons and their daughter and son-in-law, the Vaillancourts, own Woven Meadows Farm in Saranac, NY and make delicious cheeses from the milk from their dairy cows. As for my own contributions to the party, I made a roasted bacon and corn dip that was tasty, but looked rather unsightly and more than a little vomitous. (No one seemed to mind, though, and I brought home an empty dish.)

However, I was most proud of the cake that I made especially for the party's hostess and my dear friend, Joanna, who is a big Anglophile (she and her husband actually lived in England for awhile while they were both in the service). It was a pumpkin cake that, instead of being heavily spiced with traditional flavors like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, was flavored more delicately with Earl Grey tea. I know, right? I didn't think the delicate tea flavor would come through, but it did so beautifully and added lovely notes of citrus. Just DELICIOUS! I followed the recipe pretty closely, except that I doubled it and baked it in a Bundt pan so that the cake was party-sized.

My only boo-boo was trying to turn out the extremely tender and moist cake too soon and losing some of the top of it on the dismount. So I just covered my sin with a voluminous cloud of tea-spiked cream cheese frosting, and none was the wiser. (Tee hee.)

Earl Grey Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
(Source: Dianna Muscari, Honest Cooking)

1/4 cup milk
2 Earl Grey tea bags
1 cup all-­purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
scant 1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Earl Grey Cream Cheese Frosting:
2 tablespoons milk
1 Earl Grey tea bag
4 tablespoons butter, softened
3 ounces cream cheese
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8x8 inch baking pan with foil and spray with non­stick cooking spray. Set aside.
2. Heat milk to steaming and steep tea bags in it for about 5 minutes. When finished steeping, squeeze out the tea bags carefully with the back of a spoon to get maximum flavor from each bag.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
4. In a small bowl, beat together eggs, vanilla extract, pumpkin puree and vegetable oil until thoroughly combined.
5. Add wet mixture to dry mixture and stir until just combined.
6. Pour batter into prepared baking pan. Bake for about 35-45 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before frosting.

1. Heat milk to steaming; steep tea bag in milk for about five minutes. When finished steeping, squeeze out the tea bag carefully with the back of a spoon to get maximum flavor. Set aside.
2. In a medium bowl using a hand mixer, cream together butter and cream cheese until mostly smooth. Slowly beat in powdered sugar until incorporated.
3. Add about one tablespoon of tea­steeped milk. Add vanilla extract. Beat until smooth. (If the consistency is too runny, add a bit more powdered sugar. If it's too thick, add some more milk.)
4. Frost cooled cake completely. Sprinkle with cinnamon for garnish, if desired. Slice and serve.

Note: This recipe can easily be doubled and baked in a Bundt pan (increasing the cooking time, of course--I think mine took just over an hour, but I would start checking at 55 minutes and every five minutes thereafter until a tester comes out with just moist crumbs). 

Saturday, November 29, 2014


Stop what you're doing. Go to the kitchen. Get out your leftovers. Make this magnificent Thanksgiving turkey panini.

Use Puerto Rican bread (or your favorite type of sub roll) spread with a small amount of butter and toasted on a griddle. When golden brown, spread one side with your favorite mustard (I am obsessed with Green Mountain Mustard's Clove Encounter), the other with cranberry sauce. Add sliced cheese to both sides (I used sharp cheddar because that's what I had on hand). Heat up some stuffing and add that to the bottom part of the roll. Drizzle with hot gravy, then top with pieces of warmed turkey. Place the other half of the roll (and cheese) on top, and then grill on both sides until the cheese melts, pressing down with a heavy lid or pan (or use a panini press).

For this, you will be truly thankful.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

I have never been so thankful for a holiday in my life! This semester has been CRAZED, far beyond my typical level of insanity. So I eased my way into Thanksgiving prep by sleeping late yesterday, then spending a little quality time with the pups (I have missed them!). The rest of the day I spent in the kitchen, listening to my favorite Sirius radio show, Entertainment Weirdly, and baking pies (pumpkin--pictured before it got its broiled walnut crunch topping--and pecan) while the snow started to fall. I also made my famous cranberry strumpet, and when Cyd got home, we prepped the stuffing to be baked off tomorrow.
Today, I spatchcocked my turkey (which is still illegal in a few states) and covered it with frozen fruits, lima beans, and an ice pack--just because that's what I could readily find in the freezer to use. You see, I was attempting that trick that has been going around Facebook recently, trying to lower the temperature of the breast by ten degrees so that the light and dark meat are done at the same time. And you know, it kind of worked. The thigh meat ended up at 185, and the breast was 175 after carryover cooking. So it did keep it ten degrees cooler as promised, but we need a technique to keep it twenty degrees cooler. Maybe next year, I will try dry ice or liquid nitrogen! (Ha ha.) Even still, the turkey was juicy and flavorful, thanks to the spatchcocking and with a little help from Bobby Flay and his fabulous mustard-maple glaze. 

Mustard-Maple Glaze for Turkey
(Source: Bobby Flay, via Food Network)

1 1/2 cups grade-B pure maple syrup
2 heaping tablespoons Dijon mustard (I used my new favorite Green Mountain Mustard--Clove Encounter with garlic and oregano)
2 heaping tablespoons prepared horseradish, drained (I only used 1T)
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder (I used dark chili powder)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

After the turkey reaches 155 degrees F, begin basting with the maple glaze; continue roasting, basting with the glaze every 10 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thigh registers 165 degrees F, about 20 more minutes. (I take it to 175 then let it carry over.)

Et VOILA! This year's Thanksgiving feast: Mustard and maple glazed turkey, mashed potatoes with pan gravy, sausage and sage stuffing ("recipe" below), spicy succotash, and cranberry strumpet.

I make a pretty basic stuffing/dressing; I don't feel the need to adulterate it. I use a big bag of white and wheat bread pieces from the bakery, PLUS a bag of cornbread pieces. I sauté a pound of mild breakfast sausage in a stick of butter (oh yeah) with a large chopped onion and four stalks of celery, chopped. I add a lot of black pepper and a tablespoon (up to 2) of poultry seasoning. When the meat is brown and the veggies are tender, I combine everything and add hot turkey stock one ladleful at a time until I reach the desired level of moisture (up to two quarts). Then bake uncovered at 350 for 20-30 minutes, until well browned on the edges.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Legally Blonde the Musical

The thing that is consuming my whole life this semester is that I am performing in our college and community show, Legally Blonde the Musical. Normally, I don't do shows during the school year, only in the summer. But I couldn't resist doing this super-fun and infectiously entertaining musical. And I have a GREAT part that I just LOVE! I auditioned for the small but memorable role of Enid Hoopes (Enid Wexler in the movie), and even though she has only a handful of lines and a few verses to sing, she's a HILARIOUS character!
More importantly, in the last few shows I've done, I've had a terrific solo, duet, or trio, but I really wanted to be in some of the big ensemble numbers with the rest of the cast. And happily, for the songs that I love best in this show, Enid is in all of them! Granted, we have to assume that she had another career, spent time in the Peace Corps, etc. before coming to law school as a "non-traditional" aged student, but oh well.
I just loved this cast SO MUCH, that I wanted to show my affection and appreciation for them once the show got underway. So for opening night, I brought...wait for it...Legally Blondies! And for closing night, I brought something to share that was based on a Greek character, Nikos Argitakos, played by my wonderful friend, Michael Bergman. My dish was called (again, drumroll, please): R.G. Tacos, or Really Great/Greek Tacos! Am I not just the cleverest thing? Har har.

Legally Blondies
(Source: adapted from Taste of Home)

1-1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup chopped walnuts, optional
1/2 cup toffee bits, optional

1. In a large bowl, combine the brown sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla just until blended. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; add to brown sugar mixture. Stir in chocolate chips (and nuts and toffee bits, if using).
2. Spread into a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking pan. Bake at 350° for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars. Yield: 3 dozen.

R.G. (Really Good/Greek) Tacos

Seasoned Beef:
2 tablespoons olive oil

2 lbs. ground beef
1 large red onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup red wine
juice of half a large lemon

Add the olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat and cook the ground beef and onions until the meat is browned and the onions are tender. In the last few minutes of cooking, add the garlic to the saute, and the oregano, seasonings, and the red wine. Reduce until the wine is absorbed. Remove from heat, squeeze the lemon juice into the meat mixture, and add to a crock pot set on "warm" to serve buffet-style. Include the following items to the Greek taco buffet. 

Note: Gluten-free guests can skip the pitas or tortillas and make a Greek salad, so shred extra lettuce for them.

Greek Salad "Salsa"
Combine the following ingredients:
1 box Campari tomatoes, diced
1/2 large English cucumber, seeded and diced
1 small red onion, cut into thin slivers
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
juice of half a large lemon
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
pinch of sugar, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste

Other ingredients/toppings:

pitas or flour tortillas
prepared hummus (your favorite kind)
prepared tzatziki with 4 oz. of crumbled feta stirred in (you may wish to thin with lemon juice)
sliced kalamata olives
shredded Romaine lettuce