Wednesday, November 24, 2010

traditions.

There’s something very comforting about tradition this time of year, therefore I understand why people gravitate towards that green bean casserole made with canned cream of mushroom soup. I never had it in my house growing up, but wouldn't dare berate it as I’m sure it’ll appear on millions of tables tomorrow and be happily gobbled up. Who am I to mess with tradition on Thanksgiving?

At our house we enjoy our Thanksgiving meal rather late in the day (between 4 and 6 pm), and I’m really not sure why, although maybe it’s because that’s the usual custom at my mom and dad's house, so it must have carried over to us. We normally host a medley of people, but this year it’s just the two of us. It just kind of worked out that way, plus I have some deliveries to make earlier in the afternoon for the new business. Since there is no real sense of urgency or rush about dinner itself, I plan to lounge around in my pajamas most of the morning while drinking some spiked coffee and making fun of the Macy Day Parade in New York (I know it’s not called that, but that’s what I like to call it). The boy and I have had spiked coffee every Thanksgiving morning for yearsss and I can’t imagine a Thanksgiving without it.

Nutty Irishman. For one serving:

. coffee
. 1 oz Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur)
. 1 oz Bailey’s (or other Irish cream)
. Whipped cream

Pour coffee and liqueurs in cup. Stir, and top with whipped cream. Drink. Repeat. Smooth sailing into the morning.


Since we will be eating the feast so much later in the day, I plan on having some snacky things to munch on. I always have bowls of spiced mixed nuts and caramelized onion dip with chips (one of the only times of the year I’ll eat potato chips). The spiced nuts are easy peasy:

. one of those 11.5 oz cans of unsalted mixed nuts that has cashews in it (if you can only find salted, that’s fine; just be lighter with salt addition later in the recipe)
. ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
. 2 teaspoons brown sugar
. 1 teaspoon kosher salt
. 1 tablespoon butter
. 2 tablespoons of finely chopped up herbs like rosemary and thyme

Melt the butter and sugar in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the cayenne pepper, salt, and herbs; stir together. Add the nuts and stir to ensure they’re evenly coated. Cook them in the skillet for 3 to 4 minutes longer over low heat until they’re heated through and smell good. Spoon the nuts into a bowl and serve.


Tomorrow I’ll also be serving pigs in blankets. I’ve made them the last couple of thanksgivings (and also for any other festive party), and I like them because they are great warm but are equally as good at room temperature, so they can be left out on the sideboard for people to snack on. Put out little bowls of a variety of things to dip them in. I like stone ground mustard and a spicy barbecue sauce myself, but any sauce will do. I’m sure you’ve got plenty of half used bottles of dippy things in the door of your fridge.

Pigs in blankets – adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Bites

Technically these are “cows in blankets”, as I normally use little beef sausages, but “pigs in blankets” sounds so much more charming than “cows in blankets”; at least, that’s what I think.

. 2 cups flour
. 1 teaspoon baking powder
. 1 teaspoon salt
. 2 tablespoons grated good cheddar cheese (white if you can find it; if not, yellow is just fine)
. 1 cup whole milk
. 1 egg, beaten
. 3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
. 1 or 2 packages of little beef smokies (you can find them near the hot dogs and sausages at your grocery store) (I say 1 or 2 packages because I’m not sure how many of these you want to make – each package has about 20 ish sausages I think)
. 1 egg mixed with a splash of milk and a pinch of salt.


1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Put flour, baking powder, salt, and cheese into a large bowl and mix with a fork. Make a well in the middle; add the milk, egg, and oil. Mix together. You may need to add a bit more flour or a bit more milk, depending on the humidity in your kitchen. Don’t be alarmed if you do. The dough should come together and be somewhat soft but not too sticky.

3. Roll the dough out onto a floured surface. You can roll it out however thick as you like it. Anywhere between ¼ inch or less is good. Cut dough into strips about 1 ¾ inch to 2 inches wide – this does not have to be perfect at all. You will notice that this dough is very forgiving, so should you screw up cutting one of the strips, who cares? Pat it back together and roll it out again. No biggie. Not the end of the world. Cut the strips at around 2 or 3 inch intervals.

4. Take one of the sausages and place it at the end of one of the strips, and roll it up, squeezing in the end so that it doesn’t unravel. Place it on the parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with the others until you’ve got a full sheet (you may end up needing another baking sheet). Take that last egg mixed with milk and salt, and using a pastry brush paint the egg wash on the wrapped babies. Put the baking sheet(s) in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until they’re golden, brown, and delicious looking. Chuck them on a serving tray along with little bowlfuls of dippy sauces.

Here’s wishing you all a really happy Thanksgiving! and please remember to stop and smell the roses.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

pie.

it's a pie dough kind of day today.  this one is going to become caramel pumpkin.

what are you making?

Monday, November 22, 2010

what i'm thankful for.

Why do geese fly in v formation? Actually, don’t answer that because I already know the answer. Here in Atlanta we seem to have a humongous geese population. I think I’m one of the only people around here who really likes them. They poop all over everything and they scare people in the Perimeter Mall parking lot. But I like them. When I see geese flying in v formation, I deem it a good luck charm. It makes me happy. Makes me realize there is far too much beauty in this world that we take for granted and never acknowledge or barely notice.

This year has been weird, what with getting laid off last winter, then obtaining a new job which has drained me of all my vitality and happiness. I’m studying holistic nutrition, and I’m stressed out because I’m three weeks behind in one of my classes and the Proctor U site is down so I can’t schedule my final exam. I lay awake at night worrying about crap that is out of my control, worry about work issues that I can’t fix, worry that the freezer in my garage will poop out and I’ll have to throw away all those chicken carcasses I save to make chicken stock. And I worry about my family. For as much as I have been a lousy kid, what with me complaining about my mother, I do worry because my parents are getting up there in age and I live so far away. Life is fragile. I take it for granted that my mom will always be there, but one day she will no longer be around for me to bitch about – and that’s devastating. Not from the not being able to bitch about part, but because in spite of it all, I do love her. She’s just kind of nuts, is all.

A month or so ago, I got completely wound up in the whole crappy job/school/death of my uncle/starting new business mindtrap that I had a kind of minor meltdown and got sick. I went to the doctor, and while sitting there all goosebumpy in a white paper gown, I just started crying. Life has gotten me so wound up and I’ve forgotten to pause along the way and enjoy it.

So of course I’m being ridiculous, because I’m employed. Who cares if I hate my job? It pays the bills, and that’s important. I’ve got a ton of things I ought to be happy about. I’ve got a great set of friends whom I don’t see very often, but I hope they know I dig them. I’ve got a doting and loving husband, a nutty family, and a freezer full of chicken carcasses. What more can a girl want?

I promise myself to never lose my passion again. To stop and marvel at the colors of the leaves as they change. To get super excited about a really juicy clementine. To sit and gaze at the flames dancing in the fireplace. To never lose my childish innocence.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 5, 2010

french onion and apple soup with cheddar and bacon croutons


Did we just skip right over fall and into winter? they’re predicting snow flurries here in Atlanta this weekend. Which is a good excuse for me to park my butt by the fireplace; so I’m not really complaining. Much.

So last night we ate dinner on the living room floor in front of the fire, and as I put the dish down in front of the boy, he exclaimed, “Hey! Soup with little grilled cheeses on top!”, which made me happy in a dorky way, because they do look like little yummy grilled cheeses. And it’s definitely been soup and grilled cheese weather.


This soup is loosely adapted from Everyday Dining with Wine by Andrea Immer (now Robinson). By “loosely adapted”, I mean I took her ideas for using apples along with the onions, and topping the croutons with cheddar and bacon instead of the usual Swiss or gruyere. For the broth though, I used my own recipe, which has more booze in it. When the apples break down, they give the broth another layer of flavor, more depth in a way, where I think a lot of French onion soup broths hurt. The addition of apples means that you can omit using flour to thicken the soup, which some recipes call for stirring into the onions prior to adding broth, as the apples break down and their natural pectin helps bind the whole thing together.

When you’re sweating the apples and onions together, don’t walk away too far, even though this process will take a fairly long time to caramelize the onions perfectly (up to an hour). However, the sugar in the apples seep out and could burn the bottom of your pot – while you do want crusty bits on the bottom of your pot, you do not want a burned layer. If you do notice burning, turn the heat down immediately and stir the onions and apples frequently. The apples will for the most part break up into bits. If you do have a layer of burn, do not be tempted to scrub it with a wooden spoon and mix it in, as this will result in a burned tasting soup. And if you’ve somehow walked away and, oh I don’t know, got on the phone with a client and then kind of forgot about what was going on the stove, carefully remove the onions and apples and put them in another pot to continue the process with a little more butter and oil.

Incidentally, do you know how to clean a pot that has a lovely layer of burn on the bottom that won’t come off?

video


Pour water into the pot until it comes up about an inch from the bottom. Add a few drops of dish detergent. Put the pot on the stove and bring the liquid to a boil. Using a wooden spoon, start scrubbing at the burned pieces. You may have to change out the water a few times. It takes gobs of time to do this and this process sucks, but it’s better than the alternative which is to throw out the pot – which in my case WILL NEVER HAPPEN as it’s my coveted huge Le Creuset.

Make a few extra croutons topped with bacon and cheddar to have on the side, because no one will turn those down.



French onion and apple soup, with cheddar and bacon croutons
- generously serves 4.

. 2 tablespoons butter
. 1 – 2 tablespoons olive oil
. About 2 ½ lbs onions, cut in half from root end to top, then sliced into skinny little half moons
. 3 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼ inch slices
. 2 bay leaves
. Few sprigs of thyme
. Salt and pepper
. 6 cups chicken broth
. 3 cups beef broth
. 1 cup red wine
. One slug of brandy, Cognac, or even apple brandy or Calvados
. A good sharp cheddar, grated (I leave this amount up to you – you want enough to cover the toasts)
. 4 slices of bacon, cooked, drained on a paper towel lined plate, then cut into bits
. Baguette


In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the butter and oil over medium heat. Add the onions, apples, thyme, bay leaves, a couple of pinches of salt, and stir thoroughly. Cook, stirring frequently until the onions are caramelized (if the bottom of the pot is starting to burn, turn the heat down – see my note above). This step can take up to one hour. In the meantime, combine the chicken and beef stock in a saucepot and bring that to a simmer on the stove; turn heat down under that until ready to use.


Slowly add the wine while stirring. Slowly add the chicken and beef broths, at first one cup at a time while stirring, then dump in the rest. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, add the shot of cognac or brandy, and let simmer for a while – the liquid will reduce down. Stir every now and again for about 30 minutes, and taste for seasonings (salt and pepper).


When the broth has reached a nirvana-like state (when it’s to your liking), slice the baguette on a diagonal into rounds (figure a couple of rounds to cover each bowl you’re using, plus a few extra), and toast them on both sides. Turn the broiler on high. Ladle soup into oven proof crocks, top with the toasts, then top the toasts with a bit of bacon and some cheddar. Put the soup crocks under the broiler (I put mine on a baking sheet first then slide the sheet under the broiler – makes for easy removal) and let the cheese melt and become bubbly and golden. Remove soups from broiler, and using oven mitts, place crocks onto a paper towel lined plate so that they don’t slide all around, and serve.