Friday, November 30, 2007

Better Butter Cookies

I haven't made these in years but I think I am going to try them and see if they live up to my memories. This was Mom's secret recipe, guarded fiercely. My only disappointment was that we used margarine when I was growing up. I wouldn't think of doing so today but I knew back then that we didn't have enough money to afford butter.

Ingredients:

1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
3 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder

Instructions:

1. In a large bowl, sift together flour and baking powder. Set aside.

2. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Mix in egg and then vanilla. Add flour mixture; combine on low speed.

3. Divide dough in thirds; wrap in plastic. Chill for at least 1 hour.

4. On a floured work surface, roll dough 1/8 inch thick. Cut into desired shapes.

5. Heat oven to 425°.

6. Transfer to ungreased baking sheets; refrigerate until firm, 15 minutes.

7. Bake until crisp but not darkened, 7 minutes. Let cookies cool on wire racks, then decorate as desired.

Note: I use Royal Icing to decorate these but instead of lemon I add milk or water. I guess the booze of your choice would work just as well too. Atta girl!

Photo: Glazed Butter Cookies by Nicole Lee on Flickr

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Lime Meltaways


This is another Martha Stewart recipe that I now make each Christmas. These cookies literally melt in your mouth. And the lime taste is a bit unexpected in the winter. I also place these in small petit four paper cups or baking cups since the powered sugar can get all over the place.

Ingredients:

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
Grated zest of 2 limes
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions:

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, cream butter and 1/3 cup sugar until fluffy. Add lime zest, juice, and vanilla; beat until fluffy.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, and salt. Add to butter mixture, and beat on low speed until combined.

3. Between two 8-by-12-inch pieces of parchment paper, roll dough into two 1 1/4-inch-diameter logs. Chill at least 1 hour.

4. Heat oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Place remaining 2/3 cup sugar in a resealable plastic bag. Remove parchment from logs; slice dough into 1/8-inch-thick rounds. Place rounds on baking sheets, spaced 1 inch apart.

5. Bake cookies until barely golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool slightly, 8 to 10 minutes.

6. While still warm, place cookies in the sugar-filled bag; toss to coat. Bake or freeze remaining dough. Store baked cookies in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

7. The dough for these icebox cookies can be frozen in logs for up to two months.

Serving: Makes about 6 dozen

Photo: Martha Stewart Living, 1998.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sugar Cookies

These are similar to Christmas cookies that my mother used to make.

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Assorted candies, sprinkles, or colored sugars, for decorating (optional)

Instructions:

1. In large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt.

2. With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla.

3. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture; beat until combined.

4. Divide dough in half; flatten into disks. Wrap each in plastic; freeze until firm, at least 20 minutes, or place in a re-sealable plastic bag, and freeze up to 3 months (thaw in refrigerator overnight).

5. Preheat oven to 325°. Line baking sheets with parchment.

6. Remove one dough disk; let stand 5 to 10 minutes. Roll out 1/8 inch thick between two sheets of floured parchment, dusting dough with flour as needed.

7. Cut shapes with cookie cutters. Using a spatula, transfer to prepared baking sheets. (If dough gets soft, chill 10 minutes.) Reroll scraps; cut shapes. Repeat with remaining dough.

8. Bake, rotating halfway through, until edges are golden, 10 to 18 minutes (depending on size). Cool completely on wire racks.

9. To ice cookies, spread with the back of a spoon. Let the icing harden, about 20 minutes. Decorate as desired.

10. To make icing, sift 1 1/2 cups confectioners¿ sugar into a small bowl. Whisk in 3 to 4 tablespoons milk, water, or lemon juice, 1 tablespoon at a time, until smooth and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. If too thin, whisk in more sugar; if too thick, add more liquid.

Serving: makes 32 cookies

Photo: Sugar Cookies by Simply_Happy on Flickr. Aren't this great?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Royal Icing

Royal Icing is not that difficult to make - but when I make it for Gingerbread Cookies I always add lemon juice or even lemon zest. Lemon is the perfect foil to ginger, and it tones down the sweetness of the cookies as well as tempers the zing from the black pepper. Some people add glycerin (purchase at your drug store) to make a very shiny icing but it takes too long to dry.

When decorating, I cover my dining room table in plastic wrap, lay out the cookies to decorate and let them dry overnight.

Ingredients:

2 egg whites or equivalent if using meringue powder
Juice of 1 lemon
4-5 cups powdered sugar

Instructions:

1. Beat egg whites or meringue powder with water until stiff.

2. Add half the powdered sugar and all the lemon juice – continue to beat in remaining sugar.

3. Separate into small bowls if adding food color paste.

Serving: makes 2 cups

Photo: Starting to decorate by SuperFantastic on Flickr

Monday, November 26, 2007

Gingerbread Cookies

I have to admit I am reknowned for my gingerbread cookies. This is an adaption of a Martha Stewart ("oh, her") recipe that I've used for over 10 years now. There is quite a kick from black pepper and the ginger in the cookie paired with lemon juice in the royal icing.

You can use small cookie cutters or large ones - I tend to make large Christmas trees, snowflakes and stars that are about 6 inches across.


Ingredients:

6 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup dark-brown sugar, packed
4 teaspoons ground ginger
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs
1 cup (8oz) unsulfured molasses (you want the lighter color – usually a brown label such as Grandma’s)

Instructions:

1. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.

2. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until fluffy.

3. Mix in spices and salt, then eggs and molasses.

4. Add flour mixture; combine on low speed. Divide dough in thirds; wrap in plastic. Chill for at least 1 hour.

5. Heat oven to 350°. On a floured work surface, roll dough 1/8 inch thick. Cut into desired shapes.

6. Transfer to ungreased baking sheets; refrigerate until firm, 15 minutes. Bake until crisp but not darkened, 8 to 10 minutes.

7. Let cookies cool on wire racks, then decorate as desired.

Serving: makes 16 large cookies

Photo: Gingerbread Cookies, by seeingbeauty, Flickr

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Welsh Cookies

These cookies were one of my mother's signature holiday treats. No one else made them. Many people had never heard of them. Everyone wanted to know what was in them and how they were made.

I don't remember how Mom got a hold of this recipe. Last year I was disheartened when I couldn't find it among my cookbooks so I decided to do a search on the Internet. There were several recipes but somehow they just weren't like Mom's. Finally, as I cleaned out her house in New York this past Spring, I found it and several others including her date nut bread.

You will need an electric skillet to make these. There is no substitute. I've tried these in a regular frying pan, a stovetop griddle, etc. to no avail.

Ingredients:

7 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp nutmeg
2 cups vegetable shortening
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk
1 cup scalded dried currants

1. In a large bowl, sift together flour and sugar, salt and nutmeg.

2. Using a pastry blender, cut in vegetable shortening until a course meal is formed. Add eggs, vanilla and milk.

3. Place currents in a small fine strainer. Pour boiling water over them or place the strainer briefly in boiling water. The idea is to plump them up. Then add currants to the mixture and mix well.

4. Wrap dough in plastic. Chill for at least 1 hour.

5. Roll and cut into shape using a round biscuit cutter.

6. Using an electric skillet set at 300 degrees, fry without any grease until lightly brown on both sides.

These "tea cakes" are traditionally served on March 1 which is Saint David's Day - Saint David being the patron saint of Wales.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Basque Salad

This is a great party dish for the holidays - it is almost like a cold paella salad. It has saffron, rice, shrimp, prosciutto, salami and can handle a variety of other items. So be creative!

Ingredients:

2 bunches of green onions (scallions) – only use green part and chop into 1/4” pieces
1/4 cup olive oil
Pinch of saffron
2 cups converted white rice
4 cups chicken stock
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp black pepper
1 medium green pepper – diced
1 medium red pepper – diced
4 oz hard sausage or salami – jullienned
8 oz prosciutto – thinly sliced and chopped
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
1 pound medium shrimp – raw, shelled and deveined

Instructions:

1. Heat oil in a dutch oven. Add green onions and sauté over medium heat, stirring, for 5 minutes or until wilted. Add saffron and cook for 2 minutes longer.

2. Add the rice and stir, coating grains well with oil. Season with salt and pepper, pour in chicken stock and stir. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook over low heat for 20 minutes or until rice is just done and all liquid has been absorbed. Fluff with a fork.

3. Add raw shrimp – the heat of the rice should be enough to cook them – place cover on dutch oven and let the rice cool a bit.

4. Transfer rice to large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and toss thoroughly. Chill for at least one hour. Arrange on a large platter and serve at room temperature.

Notes: I've tried to substitute other rice such as arborio or even basmati but the salad is sticky and gummy after being refrigerated.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Turkey Stock

I have recovered the carcass from yesterday's turkey feast at my brother and sister-in-law's house so I will be making turkey stock today. We ate like dingos in a maternity ward!

If you've ever made stock before, you know there are a variety of ways to do it - with aromatic vegetables (celery, onions, carrots) or without; with salt or without; condensed or uncondensed.

My method is to use my 13 qt Le Creuset stockpot, no vegetables, no salt. I don't add salt because I never know what the stock will be used for and that recipe may have other ingredients high in salt, etc.

And I make a very rich condensed broth that I refrigerate overnight in order to skim off the fat. If the broth is too rich, I can always add more water to it later when I use it.

Then it goes into 1 gallon freezer bags and into the freezer!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Stuffed Mushrooms

Besides making Sweet Olive Bread, Roasted Vegetables and Stuffing, one of my assignments for Thanksgiving Dinner tomorrow is to make the appetizer. I usually make Stuffed Mushrooms - this is a recipe that I developed from one that I saw in Gourmet magazine about 25 years ago. I make them for every party and have made them with crab added to the stuffing as well.

INGREDIENTS:

1 large shallot
2 tbsp butter
1 lb white mushrooms, small to medium size
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup romano or parmesan cheese
1 tsp black pepper
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 lb crab meat (optional)
1/2 cup heavy cream or milk

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Lightly grease a 13 x 9 x 2 pan with vegetable oil or olive oil. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Prepare mushrooms. Remove dirt and clean. Remove caps from stems. Dice all stems and place in large bowl.

3. Select approx. 16 to 20 mushroom caps and place in pan with the tops down. Dice remaining mushroom caps - you should have about 1 cup at least of chopped caps. Add to bowl.

4. In large skillet over medium heat, add butter and diced shallot. Cook for about 2 minutes until soft.

5. Add chopped mushrooms and cover. Cook approximately 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

6. When mushrooms have cooked down, add wine, black pepper, cheese and bread crumbs.

7. Remove from heat. Add enough cream or milk to lighten the mixture - it should be soft but not runny. When baking, the mushroom caps will add moisture to the mixture as they cook down.

8. Let stuffing cool slightly. Use a teaspoon to mound stuffing on caps in pan.

9. Bake at 400 degrees for approx. 30 minutes.

10. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Photo: by coma_high on Flicker whose process looks so much like my own!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Stuffing

My stuffing is made the old fashioned way that I learned from my mother and she learned from her mother. It uses plain old white bread, peppers, onions, poultry seasoning and chicken stock.

I no longer place stuffing in the turkey for two reasons: it tends to get greasy from all the turkey fat and stuffing in a raw turkey increase the chances of bacteria especially if you pre-stuff and refrigerate the turkey. This recipe is baked in a buttered casserole which produces a nice crust.

And as for the photo - I really miss Bell's Poultry Seasoning. This is what I grew up with and it is almost impossible to find here in Chicago.






INGREDIENTS:

2 loaves of white bread
1 large onion, chopped
2 large green peppers, chopped
8 large sage leaves, chopped
1 tsp black pepper
3 tbsp poultry seasoning
6 cups chicken stock (1 large can)
1/2 cup Butter (1 stick)

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. You can choose to let the bread dry out in the oven overnight or not. I've made it both ways.

2. In a very large bowl, tear or break bread into small pieces.

3. Over medium heat, cook the onions and peppers in 2 tbsp butter until soft. Remove from heat.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

5. Place peppers and onions in bowl with bread. Add sage, pepper and poultry seasoning.

6. Begin to mix with hands and add 1 cup chicken stock at a time. The mixture should not be too dry - the stuffing will lose moisture as it bakes. You may not need all the chicken stock.

7. Butter a large casserole or 13 x 9 x 2 pan very well with butter.

8. Place stuffing in the casserole. Any remaining butter can be placed on top of the stuffing.

9. Bake for 30 - 45 minutes depending on how much of a crust and how brown you want it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Turkey Gravy - And I Cheated!

Another true confession - I cheat when it comes to making turkey gravy, or any gravy for that matter. I rely on my Knorr gravy mixes.

I know you might be surprised but after years of fighting with greasy, time consuming turkey gravy and trying to make it while the turkey is resting and the rest of the side dishes are in the oven, I gave up.

The Knorr mixes are great and much better than McCormick brand which tends to be too salty. I can make it with water as directed or I use non-fat milk for a cream gravy.

And when I buy them through Amazon's grocery division, I can get free shipping and pay no sales tax. On the box of 24, it brings the price down to $1 per packet or less when my local supermarket is charging $1.75 a packet!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Perfect Roast Turkey

In honor of the Thanksgiving "panic" that has suddenly developed at all the stores over the weekend, and which will only get worse and culminate with Mad Wednesday (where people shop as if there were an impending snowstorm or turkeys were endangered species), here is the turkey recipe I use when I am assigned the Thanksgiving hosting duties.

Warning - you will need cheesecloth for this recipe! And I never buy it the week of Thanksgiving since it is hard to find. Stock up!

My partner and I used this recipe for our first Thanksgiving and I nearly burned the house down. I had the beast all ready to go into the oven in his apartment stove (electric - feh!) which had never been used in two years. Can you say single and bachelor? Anyway, I follow the directions as to temperature and all of a sudden there are flames coming out of the oven. The knob for Bake/Broil/Pre-heat had been placed incorrectly so that Bake was really Broil.

This is basically a recipe that Martha Stewart published many years ago. To me it is the best way to make turkey - especially if you like that photo op of having perfectly brown beast on your holiday table.

INGREDIENTS

1 twenty- to-twenty-one-pound fresh whole turkey, giblets and neck removed from cavity and reserved
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, plus 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
Cheesecloth
1 bottle 750-ml dry white wine (chardonnay or poiully fuisse - not sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio)
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 small onions
1 lemon
1 orange
2 celery stalks
Sage, rosemary or other fresh herbs

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Rinse turkey with cool water, and dry with paper towels. Let stand for 2 hours at room temperature.

2. Place rack on lowest level in oven. Heat oven to 450°. Combine melted butter and white wine in a bowl. Fold a large piece of cheesecloth into quarters and cut it into a 17-inch, four-layer square. Immerse cheesecloth in the butter and wine; let soak.

3. Place turkey, breast side up, on a roasting rack in a heavy metal roasting pan. If the turkey comes with a pop-up timer, remove it; an instant-read thermometer is a much more accurate indication of doneness. Fold wing tips under turkey. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper inside turkey. Fill large cavity and neck cavity loosely with whole onions, quartered lemon and orange, whole celery stalks and the herbs; do not pack tightly. Tie legs together loosely with kitchen string (a bow will be easy to untie later). Fold neck flap under, and secure with toothpicks. Rub turkey with the softened butter, and sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and pepper.

4. Lift cheesecloth out of liquid, and squeeze it slightly, leaving it very damp. Spread it evenly over the breast and about halfway down the sides of the turkey; it can cover some of the leg area. Place turkey, legs first, in oven. Cook for 30 minutes. Using a pastry brush, baste cheesecloth and exposed parts of turkey with butter and wine. Reduce oven temperature to 350°, and continue to cook for 2 1/2 more hours, basting every 30 minutes and watching pan juices; if the pan gets too full, spoon out juices, reserving them for gravy.

5. After this third hour of cooking, carefully remove and discard cheesecloth. Turn roasting pan so that the breast is facing the back of the oven. Baste turkey with pan juices. If there are not enough juices, continue to use butter and wine. The skin gets fragile as it browns, so baste carefully. Cook 1 more hour, basting after 30 minutes.

6. After this fourth hour of cooking, insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. Do not poke into a bone. The temperature should reach 180° and the turkey should be golden brown. The breast does not need to be checked for temperature. If legs are not yet fully cooked, baste turkey, return to oven, and cook another 20 to 30 minutes.

7. When fully cooked, transfer turkey to a serving platter, and let rest for about 30 minutes.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Lemon Meringue Pie

My mother used to make lemon merigue pies all the time - it was one of the best desserts she made. Usually she would make two at a time. My mother used the My-T-Fine brand lemon pudding mix for her filling. If you grew up on the East Coast you probably remember this brand. It is very difficult to find anymore but Amazon's grocery division is a great source.

The recipe below is one that has been adapted from Saveur magazine and relies upon a lemon curd that is very easy to make and packs a powerful tart punch!

INGREDIENTS:

8 tbsp (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cup sugar
5 eggs, separated
1 tbsp plus 2 tsp cornstarch
Baked pie crust

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare pie crust and place in 9” pan. Place pie weights or dried beans on aluminum foil and place in center of pan. Bake for 12 minutes. Remove from oven, remove foil and weights, prick bottom with a fork and bake another 10 minutes until brown.

2. Filling: in a small pot combine butter, lemon juice and ¾ cup sugar and heat over medium heat until bubbles form around the edges. Meanwhile whisk 1 egg white and 5 egg yolks and ½ cup sugar in large bowl until thick and pale then whisk in cornstarch.

3. Drizzle hot lemon mixture into egg mixture while whisking constantly. Cook mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it is as thick as pudding, about 10 minutes.

4. Place filling in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator. Place into cooled pie crust and smooth to cover the bottom. Refrigerate for 2 hours.

5. Meringue: beat 5 egg whites until soft peaks form then add ¼ cup sugar and beat until still peaks forms. Cover filling and edges of crust with meringue. Bake for 2 minutes in a 475 degree oven until brown areas appear on the meringue. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Coconut Cream Pie

Either you love it or you hate it. I love it. And this makes one big *ss pie, let me tell you. It weighs about five pounds it seems.

INGREDIENTS

5 1/3 cup milk
1 1/3 cup sugar
½ cup cornstarch
6 eggs
Pinch of salt
2 cups sweetened coconut – shredded
1 2.6 oz box of Dream While topping mix
Baked pie crust

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare pie crust and place in 9” pan. Place pie weights or dried beans on aluminum foil and place in center of pan. Bake for 12 minutes. Remove from oven, remove foil and weights, prick bottom with a fork and bake another 10 minutes until brown.

2. Filling: Bring 4 1/3 cups milk to a boil in a medium pot over medium heat. Meanwhile, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, eggs and salt in a large bowl. Drizzle hot milk into egg mixture while whisking constantly, Return mixture to pot and cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until very thick, about 15 minutes. Stir in 1 ½ cups coconut. Transfer coconut custard to a large bowl, cover surface with plastic wrap, and let cool to room temperature.

3. Place custard in the baked pie shell.

4. Topping: place topping mix (both envelopes) and 1 cup milk into a large bowl and beat to stiff peaks. Transfer topping to cover the pie filling.

5. Toast remaining ½ cup coconut in either a frying pan or in a 450 degree oven for a few minutes until brown – make sure coconut does not burn. Sprinkle over the top of the pie.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Cherry Pie


This is probably my favorite of all pies. Being so close to Michigan and sour cherries, it is nice to make this when cherries are in season. Remember that this recipe uses canned sour cherries - you can buy them in the canned fruit section of your supermarket.

INGREDIENTS:

¾ cup sugar
3 tbsp corn starch
2 cans red tart cherries (14.5 oz each)
1 tbsp butter
2 crusts for a 9-inch pie
1 egg, well beaten
1 tbsp water

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Drain the cherries and reserve the juice from only one can.

3. In a saucepan stir the cherry juice into the combined mixture of sugar and cornstarch. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened.

4. Remove from heat. Gently stir in cherries.

5. Pour filling into the pastry lined pan. Dot with butter.

6. Adjust top crust, seal and vent. Beat together the egg and 1 tbsp water to make an egg wash. Brush top crust with egg wash.

7. Bake 30-40 minutes or until crust browns and filling begins to bubble. If necessary cover edges with aluminum foil during last 15 minutes.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Pie Crust

As part of the Thanksgiving "run up," I'll be posting lots of my pie recipes. I love pie - there is just something about the layers of crust, fruit filling, and more crust. Or meringue, fruit filling, and crust. Or crumb topping, fruit filling, and crust. You get the idea.

A great pie can't begin without a great crust. I've tried many versions - even that dreaded, lazy person's, no-roll, greasy one made with vegetable oil. Remember when that was popular back in the late 1970s and 80s? Feh. If you are going to make a pie, you need to make sacrifices. But if you have a great recipe and great equipment, then that is half the battle.

INGREDIENTS:

1 1⁄2 cups flour
1⁄2 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. chilled shortening
4 tbsp. chilled butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
6 tbsp ice water

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Sift together flour and salt into a medium bowl.

2. Cut in shortening and butter with a pastry cutter (or rub in with your fingers) until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

3. Add egg and sprinkle in 2–3 tbsp. ice water, stirring with a fork until dough just holds together.

4. Form dough into a flat round disc. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

5. Roll out dough into a 12" circle on a floured work surface.

6. Line a 9" pie pan with dough and crimp edges. Crust is ready to be filled and baked.

7. Makes one pie crust.

Photo: Anne Coleman's Pie Crust, Saveur Magazine

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Thanksgiving Food Assignments

Thanksgiving prep has started. First step, done a few weeks ago, was to decide who was hosting the dinner and what time. So we are up in Des Plaines this year. Since I have mad skills when it comes to organizing, I had to email or call and make assignments. We may have 10 or we may have 13 people - not sure yet but we always have plenty of food.

I usually fill in the gaps and make items such as stuffing (casserole only - never inside the turkey), sweet potatoes or even my Roast Vegetables but I use sweet potatoes instead of the butternut squash.

The parental units have been assigned to bring pies from Baker's Square and I told them to put their order in early. It is about 2 blocks from their house and they can pick them up on the way. This way there is no cooking for them.

The turkey will be done and while it rests about 30 minutes, we will reheat the side dishes.

I intend to get most of my shopping done next weekend - I have learned to never wait until Mad Wednesday - the day before Thanksgiving. One year back home in upstate New York, one of my aunt's decided to wait until the last minute and there was a major snowstorm. This was back in the late 1960s when there were no 24 hour supermarkets and they weren't open on holidays. Guess who served tuna fish for Thanksgiving dinner?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tres Leches ("Three Milks")


Tres Leches is a well-known dessert from Nicaragua. It often appears in Mexican bakeries and is essentially a sponge cake soaked with three different types of milk. I don't think it is too difficult to make but that's because the taste and texture are so incredible. If you make this, I promise that your family and friends who try it will be amazed and want this recipe.

My recipes does not use the traditional meringue frosting - it is way too sweet and with everything else in the cake, it is like gilding the lily.

INGREDIENTS:

Cake
9 eggs, separated
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 cup milk, mixed with 1 tablespoon baking powder

Filling
3 egg yolks
2 cups (1 pint) half and half
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Frosting
2 cups (1 pint) whipping cream (heavy cream), chilled
3 tbsp sugar

INSTRUCTIONS:

Cake:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan.

2. Beat together egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale; add the vanilla. Add flour alternately with the milk mixture. Beat egg whites to stiff peaks. Stir about a third of whites into batter, then fold in the remainder until completely blended. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake on middle rack of oven until cake tests done, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on a rack for 2 hours.

Filling:

3. Beat yolks well. Bring 1 cup of half and half to a boil. While beating yolks, slowly pour in hot cream; beat until foamy and cool. Add remaining half and half and evaporated and condensed milks; beat thoroughly. Add vanilla. Cool in refrigerator while cake is cooling.

Assembly:

4. When cake has cooled, punch holes in it with end of a wooden spoon. Slowly pour filling over the cake, which should absorb all the filling. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Frosting:

5. Chill bowl and egg beater(s) by placing in freezer for one hour. Beat whipping cream for one minute and add sugar. Beat until stiff but don’t over beat or you’ll have butter! Swirl frosting on top of cake in big strokes.

Serving: Serves 16. Good for breakfast too since it is mostly eggs after all. Hah!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Remember when Fast Food was a Treat?

In talking with friends recently, all being in my same age group (let's just say on the far end of the 18-49 year old demographic), we got around to fast food.

Back in the late 1960's and early 1970's, I remember that at least for Mom, my brother and me, fast food was a treat. Maybe we'd go once a month. I know friends who say they went twice a year.

Nowadays (whenever I say that I sound like an old f*rt), it seems that fast food is the main purveyor of sustenance for Americans, especially if you are on the other end of the 18-49 year old demographic. How did this come about?

Most likely it was due to changing lifestyles, increased mobility, more disposable income and more mothers going to work. Heavy marketing campaigns helped as well. But when I grew up, even with Mom working all week, we always had dinner at home. And it was never something microwaved or brought home from a fast food place.

Remember the fast food television commercials? "Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce, special orders don't upset us." (Burger King) "Two all beef patties, special sauce . . ." (McDonald's) "McDonald's is your kind of place . . ." (McDonald's)

Of course, in the tradition of changing song lyrics that my brother and I pursued so often, we had our own version:

McDonald's is your kind of place
Hamburgers in your face
French fries up your nose
Dill pickles between your toes
And don't forget our chocolate shakes
They're made from sewage lakes
So don't come back for more

Growing up in Upstate New York, I remember what I recently thought was an obscure fast food chain: Carrol's. It was "Home of the Club Burger" which was way better than the Big Mac and probably debuted around the same time - 1968. The Club Burger had all the elements of the Big Mac but it had a tomato slice and the "special sauce" was named Crisbo Royale Sauce (45% mayonnaise, 45% ketchup, 10% relish).

I also found out that Carrol's is still popular in, of all places, Finland! And they have the same signage, some of the same food items as I remember.

You could find a Carrol's in several places such as Middletown, Poughkeepsie, Kingston, Norwich and Rochester. But it was never like today where there seems to be a McDonald's or Burger King or KFC in every little village. Maybe that's what made fast food a treat for me - it involved a long trip, a trek.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Turkey Burgers

Our good friend Erica was over for dinner last night. She's the type of friend who feels comfortable calling up on Sunday and saying, "What night are you making Turkey Burgers this week," as a form of invitation. That's how I like my women, sweet but not subtle.

This is a recipe I developed on my own once I knew I had to eliminate saturated fats from my diet. Instead of making hamburgers with ground beef, I wanted a tasty yet juicy recipe that used ground turkey.

Ingredients:

1 package ground turkey meat (1 - 1.5 lbs)
1 egg
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 cup minced onion
1 tsp poultry seasoning
1 tsp olive or vegetable oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Instructions:

1. Place all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix with hands until combined. Form into 4 or 5 patties.

2. Place on electric grill (like the George Foreman Grill) or non-stick frying pan over medium heat.

3. Cook for 9 minutes. If using frying pan, flip burgers after 5 minutes.

Photo: from PETA - People Eating Tasty Animals, Paul Peracchia, Flickr

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Cookie Decorating

Yesterday's post about Holiday Baking got me to thinking about some of the tricks my mother taught me about decorating cookies.
  1. Cover your work surface. There is nothing worse than having to scrape off dried icing from a countertop or the dining room table. Mom used an old white cotton sheet which also doubled as her pastry cloth. We would decorate cookies and then she'd shake the sheet outside when we were done. My method is to use the large roll of polyvinyl food storage film (bought at most warehouse stores like Costco) and place sheets going across the dining room table. This usually requires two people to do. Then when done, just lift up, scrunch up into a ball and throw it away!
  2. Dry overnight. If the cookies are removed too early and placed in a storage tin (we had an old metal potato chip tin from the 1950s), they will stick together. It is best to let the cookies dry overnight. I know this is not always possible especially if you have pets!
  3. Bag 'Em! So that cookies don't stick together and decorations don't fall all over the place, I use corsage bags from my local flower mart or bought online. I use the 8" long bags which are about 4" wide - these are perfect for oversized gingerbread cookies. They give your cookies a professional look - I've had people ask where I bought the cookies! Tie with some red ribbon or create small labels with your name and fold the top over and fasten with the label.
  4. Use Meringue Powder for Royal Icing. I can't stress this enough especially since many people have problems with raw eggs (pregnant women, the elderly, people with immune system issues). I don't take a chance anymore and use Meringue Powder which can be purchased at William Sonoma, Wilton or other online stores.
  5. Plastic Bags for Piping. Rather than purchase several pastry bags or having to empty and wash the same one constantly, I place the icing in a small bag that can be "zipped" shut like Zip-Loc® brand. I then snip a corner (very small snips and cut more if it isn't large enough) and start piping away!
  6. Quick Decorating. If I am not having people over to help decorating, I admit doing it the easy way: I will use plain Royal Icing with no coloring, and use zig-zag piping over the cookies. Then toss on some decorations and you are done! I've been know to decorate 60 or more large gingerbread cookies this way in 20 minutes or less. My favorite cookie cutter is a large Christmas tree: the white zig-zagged icing looks like snow. I then place red hots on each branch and green sanding sugar.

Photo: Gingerbread Cookies, by seeingbeauty, Flickr

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Holiday Baking

Growing up, my mother always started planning her holiday baking right about now - the first week in November. Mom knew how to make a dime turn into 15 cents somehow, and she'd keep an eye out for sales on items she knew would be needed: brown sugar, white sugar, powdered sugar, flour, chocolate chips, cocoa, spices, dates (for date nut bread) etc.

Speaking of sugar, what's up with 4 lb bags of sugar? Who came up with this idea? Oh yeah, I know - so they can look like they are charging the same amount as 5lb. I said the hell with that - I buy my 10lb bag at Costco thank you.

Here is what I'll be stocking up on for my holiday baking (along with some tips):

Spices: Cinnamon, anise, cloves, ginger, nutmeg. Check out San Francisco Herb Company. I used to shop there when I lived in San Francisco and now I just place my order on the internet. They have the cheapest prices especially for saffron!

Molasses: can't make Gingerbread Cookies without this. I use the unsulphured version, usually Grandma's brand in the brown and yellow labeled jar. I start looking now because it is not on sale very often. Oh, by the way, it is located near the pancake syrups. Who'd a thought?

Sugar: I usually look for sales at my supermarket here in Chicago which is Dominick's. Costco has gotten better about carrying smaller sizes of sugar such as 4lbs of powered sugar (for Royal Icing), 2 lbs of brown sugar and 10 lbs of white sugar.

Vanilla: Costco has the best price for real vanilla extract.

Butter: Costco again - but is it just me or has all dairy gone up in price?

Flour: This is tough. I prefer unbleached which Costco doesn't carry. And their smallest size bag is 25 lbs! I don't have enough storage room for that. So I seek out sales at Dominick's and usually wait until it is 99 cents for a 5 lb bag and buy as many as they allow.

Decorations: I've always hated the fact that when you try to buy cookie decorations in a supermarket, you get these tiny, overpriced containers - even when they are on sale. I tried something new this year - I purchased large 3 lb canisters of decorations from Amazon's grocery division. I couldn't believe the prices for things like sprinkles, sanding sugars, etc. And any order over $25 is shipped for free. And no sales tax! Since our tax is 9% here in Chicago (and going up believe it or not), that makes a big difference. One thing I've found is that seasonal items are full price, while off-season items can be as much as 80% off. I bought several canisters of Christmas decorations for cookies by India Tree back in August. Within a few weeks, they went back to full price as the holidays approached.

UPDATE: I just looked at what Amazon is charging now for these decorations and boy do I feel like a thief! I paid $8.98 and $11.98 for some that are now selling for $21.98 and $31.98!

Here are some things I'll be making during the holiday baking season and the recipes will follow sometime in early December:
  • Gingerbread Cookies with Royal Icing
  • Lime Meltaways
  • Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Chocolate Pretzel Rods
  • Reindeer Droppings (not what you think - oreos and cream cheese balls dipped in chocolate)

Monday, November 5, 2007

Fancy Grits

I don't know why or how I acquired this love of grits - being a Yankee boy from New York. But my recipe is not your standard method of serving grits. Most people unfamiliar with them are usually exposed at some Southern diner or truck stop where they are served for breakfast as a side dish to eggs, bacon, sausage, etc. The recipe below produces a rich and flavorful side dish to be served at dinner. I'll bet if you serve this your guests will never know what the main ingredient is!

Ingredients:

6 cups chicken stock
1 bunch green onions, chopped
5 mushrooms, sliced thinly
1 1/2 cups Quaker® quick grits (do not use instant grits!)
1/4 cup grated cheese (parmesan or romano)

Instructions:

1. In a large saucepan bring the chicken stock to a boil.

2. Slowly add the grits while stirring, otherwise they will clump up.

3. Add onions and mushrooms. Cook covered on a low simmer for 10 minutes.

4. Remove from heat, add cheese.

5. Placed in a buttered casserole dish and bake in the oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Serving: I usually serve this with chicken, gravy and cornbread.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

My Kitchens

To me kitchens have always been and still are utilitarian - not the "showplaces" or "conversational areas" you see in today's homes. When we were shopping for our first condo together in 2006, we saw some great kitchens and some obscene kitchens. I knew the kitchen was important for me and these were my requirements:
  • gas stove
  • microwave oven over the stove or other area - no countertop microwave
  • large refrigerator, preferably side by side or freezer on the bottom
  • large cabinets, 42" height
  • plenty of worksurfaces
  • plenty of storage
  • no eat-in area or breakfast nook
  • granite or quartz countertops

I know that I could get by with any kitchen - hell, I even cooked in a makeshift kitchen in college with an electric wok and convection oven! And I've managed in some pretty small kitchens in my time.

The kitchen I grew up in is small - almost galley like. Two people cannot work in the same area together. Mom remodeled the kitchen in 1982 and transformed it into what she always wanted: oak cabinets, deep blue formica countertops, a dishwasher (her first!) and a trash compactor. The original electric stove has since been replaced with a gas stove.

My kitchen in San Francisco was comical. It had tall, tall cabinets but it was also where the hot water heater was located and it had an apartment style gas stove. You should have seen when I made baklava or roasted a turkey - the pans were too long and I had improvised an old broomstick to wedge between the refrigerator door and the stove door to keep it shut. Now that I look back I can't believe the meals and parties I could produce in that kitchen - it was just like the miracle of the fishes and the loaves!

My first Chicago kitchen was in the condo near Lakeshare Drive that my partner owned. It was small, 8' x 8', all white (which I despise since it is difficult to keep clean!) and had an electric stove. The dishwasher really belonged in my old San Francisco kitchen - it was literally 1/2 the width of a conventional dishwasher. Many times I just used the tried and true method of handwashing.

My kitchen now is great and I feel very at home in it. There is plenty of wall space to hang my partner's collection of Broadway posters and artwork from my dear friend Lisa Hartmann in New York. The floors are very dark oak which helps in hiding the dirt. I have a large gas stove which we christened properly during a housewarming party by burning a large pizza on the stove's bottom.

The space has almost everything I want and need except perhaps for more storage space. That's why we are currently working on a set of additional cabinets right now - and we've not been in our new place a full year yet! We were able to find the matching cabinets but insted of floor cabinets, we selected the same 42" wall cabinets and placed them on the floor. I needed wide, double-door cabinets with no dividers in the middle (for platters and baking sheets) - and a custom depth of 16" (most wall cabinets are 12"). Right now the struggle is to find matching granite for the countertop. Then I'll be all set. Until the next idea pops in my head!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Bolognese Sauce

Ok - here it is. This is one of the dishes that I am most known for with friends and family. If you have a Saturday afternoon where you want to putter around the house and also check in periodically on its progress, this is the recipe for you.

I don't make this during the summer months - too much work and too much heat in the kitchen.

Mom made great pasta sauce but would usually start with some Prego or Ragu that she doctored with ground beef, onions and spices.

Bolognese Sauce is enchanting - an Italian mistress that you can't ignore - rich layers of red wine, beef, pork, tomatoes - all in a beautiful body.

Ingredients:

2 large onions, chopped (should be 2-3 cups of onions)
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork (or a mix of beef/veal/pork)
2 cups red wine (dry red wine such as chianti, cabernet – no zinfandel!)
3 cans tomato puree (28 ounces each)
1 small can tomato paste
1 tbsp beef broth base – concentrated beef broth or veal demi-glace
1 tbsp Salt
1 tbsp Black Pepper
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp chopped garlic (optional)
Various cooked meats - chicken breast, pork chops, Italian sausage (optional)

Instructions:

1. In a large (7-8 qt) dutch oven, brown the meats and then drain off the resulting grease.

2. Chop the onion and place in large dutch oven with oil and butter. Cook over high heat for 3 minutes or until soft. Add all the browned meat.

3. Add wine and cook for 1 minute – deglaze the pan. Add tomato puree and tomato paste. Add Salt and Pepper.

4. Bring to boil. Lower heat to a simmer – the sauce should bubble slowly for the next 3 hours. Stir occasionally = every 30 minutes.

5. If using garlic, add the garlic during the last 30 minutes of cooking.

6. If using sausage or other meats – sear them on all sides in a frying pan or on a grill and then add during the simmer stage. They must cook for 2-3 hours.

7. This sauce is best served with a corkscrew, cavatappi or orichette style pasta – no long pasta or tubes (ziti, rigatoni).

Photo: Bolognese Sauce by Pat Kight, Flickr

Friday, November 2, 2007

Convenience Foods of the 1970s

When I was growing up in the 70s, I learned how to cook using convenience foods - thus the title of this blog "And I Helped" from the old Shake 'n Bake commercials. When I look back at that and other products now, I just can't believe some of the stuff we ate.

Convenience foods weren't seen as convenient to me, especially as I got older and expanded my cooking repertoire. But growing up in a household where money was very tight, we usually didn't buy expensive ingredients especially fresh vegetables in the winter. Besides, if you saw the supermarkets back in my hometown in the dead of winter, you'd think you were shopping in some Cold War era communist country. We're talking lots of root vegtables in bad condition, no tomatoes to speak of, and good old iceberg lettuce.

However, when I started cooking at age 9, my mother's intentions were to let me get dinner on the table each night as she came home from work, and to do so safely and with a minimum of steps and ingredients. And while it may not have been the best food for us, to me it was fun, educational and it got us through some tough times.

Do you remember any of these?

Tang: this stuff to me was great, especially since the NASA astronauts were still making moon landings in the early 1970s. I also remember frozen orange juice concentrate (and how my mother would use the small metal cans as curlers - I kid you not! Lots of women did this for those big "barrel curls.")

Jello 1-2-3: this was made by Kraft and basically was a triple layered gelatin dessert that you mixed and it separated on its own. This product is no longer available and I guess some consumers have been petitioning Kraft to bring it back.

Dream Whip: before there was Cool Whip, there was Dream Whip. You could, and still can, find it in the aisle with the other gelatins. Basically you placed it in a bowl, added milk and a little vanilla, and then beat it with a mixer for about 4 minutes. While it wasn't exactly non-dairy like Cool Whip, it was cheaper than whipped cream and it held up better. I still use this for my Coconut Cream Pie recipe (a future post).

Rice a Roni: yeah, this was a good one and easy to make. A little oil, brown the rice, add the "seasoning packet" (all good convenience foods had a seasoning packet), add water and simmer. Do you remember the song? "Rice a Roni, the San Francisco treat, Rice a Roni, the flavor can't be beat! . ." Except my brother and I made up our own words for the next verse: "Looks so good on the TV screen, cook it at home and the pot turns green . ."

Mrs. Paul's: in the East, we had these Mrs. Paul's fish products such as breaded fillets and fish sticks. Looking back now I think - ugh, what was in them? I also remember it came with a "seasoning packet" that you mixed with mayonnaise for instant tartar sauce. I never knew who Mrs. Paul was but I bet she never served this stuff to her family.

Hamburger Helper: oh this one was fun. You browned the ground beef in a large skillet, added the "seasoning packet", then the pasta (usually elbow macaroni) and water. A one dish meal that was done in about 30 minutes. Then they came out with Tuna Helper which was just plain wrong.

Chicken Tonite: like Rosalind Russell said in The Women: "I tried this once. Gave me a rash." That's how we felt about Chicken Tonite - hated it! I never understood this one - nothing you couldn't do with some chicken breasts and a can of cream of mushroom soup. And probably a lot cheaper.

Steak 'Ums: these were my brother's favorite but they really weren't substantial enough for dinner. This was the snack after coming home from school and they were safe enough for a teen to make in the microwave. To me it was simply thinly shaved cardboard.

That's it - the tour is over. But what goes around comes full circle sometimes doesn't it? Now when I go out the trend is for a wedge of iceberg lettuce with blue cheese dressing. Funny isn't it? I wonder if there is still Marie's Blue Cheese Dressing? Remember that stuff?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Sweet Olive Bread

We had Garlic Soup again last night and I just wish that I had made some bread to go with it - but there wasn't enough time. Mom never made bread - either it just didn't interest her or she felt it was too much work. I like making bread and living with a Greek-American I've learned that bread is a staple that you can never be without. But I really need to get a baking stone for the oven the make good bread with a great crust.

This recipe is from Saveur magazine which I absolutely adore. A few years ago I let most of my subscriptions run out - no time for magazines! But this is the only one I kept and I also give as a gift to friends around the holidays. It isn't just recipes - it is more like the anthropology of food. Saveur will take one ingredient like bacon and devote the entire issue to its history, how different cultures use it, etc.

In this recipe, I tend to use a little less olive oil than the recipes states - I find the bread can be a bit oily. I also tend to double the recipe and make two loves since it is usually devoured quickly in my house!

Ingredients:

3 3/4 cups flour
1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp sugar
1 7 gram package active dry yeast (1/4 oz)
3/4 cup plus 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp salt
Kosher salt

Instructions:

1. Make a poolish: Put 1/1/2 cups flour, sugar, yeast and 1 cup warm water into a large bowl and stir well with wooden spoon to combine. Let the mixture sit in a warm spot until bubbly, about 30 minutes.

2. Add remaining flour, ¾ cup oil, and salt to the poolish and stir until a dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, 5-7 minutes. (I have used the dough hook on my KitchenAid mixer for this)

3. Grease a large clean bowl with the remaning oil, place dough in the bottom, and cover with a clean towel. Set the dough aside in warm spot to let rise until doubled in bulk, 3-4 hours.

4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Gently turn dough out onto a large sheet of parchment paper and gently stretch is with your fingers to form a large rectangle. Carefully transfer the dough – on the parchment paper – to a large baking sheet and bake until golden brown and puffed, about 15-20 minutes.

5. Remove the bread from the oven and immediately brush the top and sides with 2 tbsp hot water to soften the crust. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Transfer the bread to a rack to let cool, or serve warm, if you like.

SERVING: Remember to tear the bread into pieces – tradition says that cutting it might sever your friendship with the people at the table.