Tuesday, November 25, 2008

the boy's favorite yeasty rolls (or T-Day minus 2)

way back when, we had a bread machine. like all new bread machine owners, you get all excited to make bread all the damn time, because you can. eventually i stopped using it to bake in, and only used it for kneading. and eventually i stopped using it for kneading when i got a kitchen aid mixer. and sometimes i don't even use that because i discovered that i really enjoyed kneading dough by hand, which is why i like making fresh pasta. but that's another story.

we gave the machine away a few years back, but i still occasionally find a bread machine recipe i printed out from the web tucked away into a book (like the tomato garlic bread, and the jalapeno cheese bread - i don't remember either one of these being terribly successful). one of the recipes that was successful, however, was one i think we found on allrecipes.com, for a good yeasty dinner roll. i adapted the recipe for non-machine use, and it's made an appearance at our thanksgiving table for at least the last six years.

this makes 12 rolls. they don't keep terribly well (they're okay the next day, but after that they're rather stale). but they're terrific the day of. just remember that they need to rest for a few minutes when they come out of the oven.

The boy’s favorite yeasty rolls

for the dough:
3 cups bread flour
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup dry milk powder
1 cup warm tap water
2 tablespoons softened butter
1 teaspoon active dry yeast or one package of yeast

for the glaze:
1 egg white
2 tablespoons water

Put all of the dough ingredients in your stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes; you may need to add a sprinkling more of flour or a drop of water in order to get the dough to scrape up the bits from the bottom and form a smooth ball. You’ll know when the dough is ready when it is elastic and smooth-looking, and not too sticky. Remove dough from work bowl; knead by hand for a second or two and form into a ball. Place dough into a large oiled bowl, and turn to coat with oil. cover with plastic wrap and set in an out of the way non-drafty area for one hour (or until doubled in size). Alternatively, if you’re making this the night before, put covered oiled dough bowl into the fridge to retard overnight. Take it out of the fridge to bring to room temperature before proceeding to next step.

After it’s doubled in size, punch it down lightly and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Using a bash-n-chop/bench scraper/sharp knife, divide the dough into twelve equal pieces and form each piece into a nice round. Place rounds onto a parchment-covered cookie sheet and cover with a kitchen towel. Set these out of the way until doubled in size. In the meantime, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

When ready to bake, beat the egg white with the water. Remove the kitchen towels and using a pastry brush, lightly brush the tops of the rolls with the egg wash.

Bake for 15ish minutes until the tops of the rolls are golden.

Remove the rolls from the oven, put each roll face up on a rack and let stand for at least 15 to 20 minutes before eating.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

T-Day minus 7

I was going to post about my Dad’s stuffing, but I left the darn recipe at home (and home is not where I am currently). But I will instead talk about the #1 tradition that the boy and I indulge in every Thanksgiving since we’ve been together.

Behold the nutty Irishman. I cannot think of a better way to wake up on Thanksgiving morning. There have been countless Thanksgivings where I woke up in a panic due to all the things that needed to get done before guests arrive. The boy and I decided, Enough of that. So here goes:

1. While still in pajamas and still with bedhead, make a pot of coffee.

2. While coffee is brewing, make whipped cream {do you need a recipe for this? Okay. If it’s just the two of you, put ½ cup (or however much you want, adjust for more) of heavy whipping cream in a bowl – don’t you dare buy fat free! Today is not the day for fat free anything! – and with a hand held electric beater, beat until almost stiff peaks form. Don’t have a hand held mixer? Get a whisk and start whisking, and I take my hat off to you. I don’t have patience or arm muscles for that. I have the skills, but what it all boils down to is that I don’t feel like wasting that much energy first thing in the morning. When you’ve nearly reached stiff peaks, add a tablespoon or two of granulated sugar (sweeten to your taste) and a drop or so of vanilla extract. Beat a little more, and voila. Whipped cream}.

You could go the easy way out and get (I shudder even typing this - Cool Whip or the Readi Whip, canisters used by all the kids to get high off of), but why deny yourself one of the good things in life? Homemade whipped cream takes mere minutes to make and tastes infinitely better than anything you can buy ready made from the store.

3. Next! Get some big mugs. Pour coffee into mugs and leave some room at the top (1 ½ to 2 inches should do it). Add a shot of Baileys Irish Cream. Add a shot of Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur). Stir. Add a couple of tablespoons of your fancified whipped cream on top. Park your butt on the couch in front of the Macy Day Parade and make fun of the Rockettes kicking their little hearts out in the chilling New York cold.

After one (or sometimes two) of these, the day seems so much smoother. The panic from earlier? What panic?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

as seen on Craigslist this week

"Experienced chef needed for in home private holiday work. Family in sandy
springs needs Holiday chef from dates Dec 24-30th. This job will require three
meals a day with light snacks in between. All meals must be of the highest
quality. This family has very high standards. Please be humble and very service
savy. You must have a great positive attitude and no ego. Compensation: day rate
based on 10-12 hr work day "

i pity the person who eventually takes this job, if it even gets filled that is. it's been my experience that people who don't cook who have "very high standards" tend to be a huge pain in the ass.

(thanks to Mrs B for sending me the link)

T-Day minus 15

this morning when i got to work and looked at the calendar i was dismayed to see that it is already November 12th. i ask you, where did 2008 go? it surely felt like a blur. and i dont know if i have anything to show for it.

after what seemed like an exceedingly long day at work, i came home for a tryst with the elliptical machine, then gave myself a well-deserved glass of wine and sat in a bubble bath accompanied by Nigella Lawson's Feast. the boy gave me this book a few years back, and i know that i read through it at the time, but had completely forgotten about it. so i sat back and read her first chapter about Thanksgiving and Christmas. after a few minutes reading, it was all i could do to remain in the bath and not rush out, getting foamy footprints all over the carpet. that one chapter got me in the mood for Thanksgiving; it was like a shot of B-12 or a heavy dose of Nyquil without the sluggish after effect. in fact, i feel quite sane and awake right now. i know it's a bit early for it (although the tv ads have beaten me to it), but today i suddenly feel like we've started the 2008 holiday season, and i don't feel too badly about it being so early.

like a lot of cooks, our Thanksgiving menu doesn't vary that much year to year. there may be the occasional addition of something, or removal of a dish that wasn't too popular in previous years; but for the most part our menu has remained the same. i'm willing to bet yours hasnt changed much either in a few years. if you're new at this, welcome! welcome to a lifetime of treasured memories. some will be good, some may not be, but it definitely won't be boring. one year you might find yourself in charge of the meal and you'll have no help. you will look at a room full of faces, all turned towards you, eager and / or doubtful. and you'll get scared, and you'll think, "There is no way in fucking hell that i'm going to pull this off". i'm telling you right now, you will pull it off. be confident. and if something funny should happen, like oh say for instance you forgot to pull out the baggie of innards from the inside of the turkey before shoving it in the oven, you will laugh at that memory in years to come. it may not seem so funny at the time (and you probably wish that the ground would open up and swallow you whole) but i guarantee that you will not forget that particular thanksgiving ever again. and what is life without memories? they definitely keep me entertained when i'm on one of my interminable deployment calls in the middle of the night.

for the next couple of weeks leading up to T-Day i've decided to post some of the recipes of dishes that i know shall make it on my Thanksgiving table this year. i may or may not have pictures for each dish; after all, i only started taking pictures of food about two years ago and it's sometimes hard not to dig in without commemorating the moment. i oftentimes purposely don't take pictures of a dish because i'm famished and want to eat Right Now, and then regret my decision 15 minutes later (like the red cabbage braised in red wine that the boy made the other night. sigh). so i'll do the best that i can.

i love this particular combination of roasted shallots and cranberries. i'm more inclined towards savory dishes rather than sweet, so when i saw Andrea Immer make this on the Fine Living channel a few years back, i felt obligated to try it. however, she calls for 18 whole roasted shallots, which seem like a lot even for an allium lover like me. and just to make sure i wasn't totally deranged, i ran this recipe by my mom last year, who also agreed that it seemed like a lot of shallot (it's not often that we are in agreement so i take it where i can get it).

you can make this recipe a few days in advance, and i urge you to do so because i feel that a cold stay in the fridge melds the flavors well together.

roasted shallot and cranberry sauce
, adapted from Andrea Immer Robinson

8 or 9 shallots, peeled and cut into quarters
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced
5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup red wine
2/3 cup ruby port
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
one of those bags of fresh cranberries from the produce aisle
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Toss shallots with oil, thyme, and liberal amounts of salt and pepper on a rimmed baking sheet or cookie sheet. Bake until golden brown and start to smell yummy, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Drizzle one tablespoon of the balsamic vinegar over shallots and toss to coat. Continue roasting until shallots caramelize, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven.

In a saucepan over medium high heat, combine the wine, port, brown sugar, remaining four tablespoons of vinegar and sugar, and bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add the cranberries; cook until berries pop, stirring occasionally, about eight minutes. Mix in parsley (if using) and shallots. Transfer to bowl with tight fitting lid, and chill overnight.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

sweet potato and carrot tagine

i made this for lunch one day when i was working from home a few weeks ago. i've been wanting to use the tagine more often, and found a recipe that seemed pretty tasty to me. i'm always on the lookout for recipes involving sweet potatoes, because a long time ago I watched a show on the Style Network about skin and skincare, and one of the nutritionists who was interviewed said that they are one of the better-for-you vedges. however, i do fall into the Savory Sweet Potato Camp, meaning i prefer my sweet potatoes in savory dishes. we never had sweet potato pie or sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows at our Thanksgiving dinners when i was growing up, so i don't have an affinity for sweetened sweet potatoes like some people have. to me, the idea of sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows makes my teeth ache; however, i will not knock it until i try it. and i might try it one day; just not now, and not today.

this recipe errs on the somewhat-sweet side, but not unpleasantly sweet for my taste. i found the use of prunes intriguing, and besides, their after-effect is always welcome as long as you eat them in moderation (if you catch my drift huhuh). if you don't have a tagine, you can use a Dutch oven or a heavy bottomed pot with a lid. this made enough for several lunches, served with pita wedges.

i made the vedge stock while on a conference call. who says i can't multitask? vegetable stock takes but an hour to make, and more than likely you do have all the ingredients on hand in your "rotter" drawer. it freezes beautifully as well, and makes a great base for a brine. i suppose you could use chicken stock in this recipe, but sometimes it won't hurt you to use an all-veggie stock.

i think this would be a welcome addition to anyone's Thanksgiving table if they were craving something a little more unusual than the regular sweet potato fare.

Tagine of Sweet Potatoes and Carrots in Honey Sauce (Tagine Batata Hloowa)
adapted from "The Vegetarian Table: North Africa", by Kitty Morse

30 frozen peeled pearl onions
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large, even chunks
4 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
1 and 1/2 to 1 and 3/4 cups veggie stock (see recipe that follows)
1/4 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup pitted prunes
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Heat butter and oil over medium high heat in tagine. Add the onions and cook until thawed and tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Remove half of the onions and set aside.

Add the cubed sweet potatoes and carrots, and cook until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. once browned all over, add stock, honey, cinnamon, ginger, prunes, salt, and 1 teaspoon of black pepper, and stir until blended. Cover tagine, reduce heat but keep it simmering for at least 30 minutes. Check after 30 minutes to see if vegetables are cooked through; it may need more time. Top with the pearl onions you set aside earlier; replace lid for a couple more minutes.

In the meantime, toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan over medium heat (be careful not to burn them). Set aside. When ready to serve, turn the heat off, remove lid from tagine and top with sesame seeds.

Veggie Stock

2 large onions, peeled and cut into large chunks
3 or 4 celery ribs (leaves removed), cut into chunks
4 or 5 whole peeled cloves of garlic
2 or 3 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
a handful of peppercorns
bouquet garni (i used leftover parsley stalks, some fresh thyme, 2 bay leaves, all tied up with twine)

Toss all of the above ingredients in a stock pot. fill with water until vedge is covered. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down and let simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Strain through a fine mesh sieve or chinois into another large pot or huge bowl. and there you have it, your very own veggie stock.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

cheesy bake

I’ve been eating so much ground beef lately (made a monster meat loaf this past weekend), that when it came time to think about dinner last night, I was in the mood for something different. I like the flavor of ground turkey; I feel as though it lends itself well to baked pasta dishes and doesn’t make the dish feel very heavy. When the boy and I were first dating, he used to make something we called Cheesy Bake, which was a baked ziti dish somewhat similar to this recipe. I can’t recall the exact ingredients, so I decided to recreate it since it’s been a number of years since we’ve had it last.

This will feed a bunch of people (about 8 good servings), especially if served with some garlic bread and a green salad with a nice acidic vinaigrette. You could omit the ground turkey altogether if you want something vegetarian, and you could omit the wine if you don’t have any around, although I think it brings a nice flavor to it. Also, make whatever tomato sauce you feel like, but I like the use of all the fresh herbs in this one and it’s quite flavorful. The sauce shouldn’t take you long to throw together.

I like the use of romano, because romano is fantastically salty and sharp. If you don’t feel like splurging on romano, you could use all parmesan, but for heaven’s sake, DO NOT use the stuff in the green can. I have no idea how or why, but we’ve got one in our fridge. I did not put it there. i’m going to blame the elves. They come in the middle of the night and do things like leave half empty soda cans lying around. You know how when you do laundry, you always end up missing a sock or two and you have no idea what happened to them? It’s the elves. They also like to take big bites of cheese, leaving teeth imprints on the cheese, before replacing in the fridge. I’m going to drop kick an elf if I happen to catch one.

Cheesy Bake (baked ziti with turkey)

Couple of tablespoons canola/vegetable oil
Couple of tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
1 lb ground turkey
Salt and pepper, to season turkey
1 small onion, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
A couple of slugs (about a ¼ cup) of red wine
1 cup basil, rolled up and chiffonaded
3 tablespoons minced oregano
1 tablespoon minced thyme
½ to 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
Black pepper
1 lb ziti
½ lb good mozzarella cheese cut into small cubes
½ lb good mozzarella cheese cut into slices
½ cup grated parmesan
¼ cup grated romano

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and cook the pasta until almost al dente, then remove from heat, drain, and set aside.

Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and add the ground turkey. Brown the turkey while breaking it up with a wooden spoon. When all the pink is gone, drain, set turkey aside.

In same pan, heat the olive oil and butter until melted, and add the onion. Sauté for a few minutes before adding the garlic. Cook for another minute or two before adding the crushed tomatoes and the wine, and bring to a simmer; cook for 5 minutes. Add all the fresh herbs, the salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes; stir and simmer for 5 minutes. Sauce is done.

Butter a large lasagna pan. Toss cooked turkey, sauce, cubed mozzarella, the romano cheese, and ¼ cup of the parmesan together, and pour into pan. Put the slices of mozzarella on top, sprinkle with the remaining parmesan, and bake for 30 minutes until bubbly.