Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Kibbeh Nayeh: A Family Recipe

Wait, you're family doesn't eat raw lamb during the holidays? You are SO missing out.

I know these pictures aren't going to make many people run out to buy a leg of lamb and a meat grinder, but bear with me. I need to preserve these unwritten food traditions in my family. Besides, one day you might have Lebanese in-laws or a Lebanese boss to impress, and you'll know where to go for a kibbeh recipe...or at least you'll know what kibbeh is. Specifically kibbeh nayeh--twice ground lamb mixed with bulghur wheat, onions, and spices and served raw with olive oil, sliced onions, and flat bread. Sort of like steak tartare but much better. The taste is surprisingly mild, not as gamey as cooked lamb often is, and the texture is similar to any spread you would put on a good piece of bread. The hint of allspice and cinnamon accent the meat, and the bulghur wheat adds a contrast of texture.

I'm not even a big fan of lamb, cooked lamb, but I LOVE this. It might be genetic. All my dad's brothers and sisters got a share of the kibbeh nayeh after we made it, and I heard quite a few stories about when my grandmother made it. Apparently there was a certain uncle of theirs that managed to eat unimaginable amounts of the kibbeh nayeh, frightening my dad and uncles into thinking they wouldn't get any.

My grandmother (who is Italian-American) learned how to make kibbeh nayeh from my grandfather's sister (who was Lebanese-American). And my dad learned to make it from her. And while I was home, my brother and I learned how to make it from him.

This was an all day project. First, all the fat had to be removed from the lamb. I mean all of it. You see white? You're not done then. This took hours. (Now you're totally inspired to make this, right? Raw lamb that takes hours to prepare...well at least try it if you ever get the opportunity and appreciate the hard work done by others.) The good news is that once we de-fatted 9 pounds of lamb the hard part was done.

Well, kind of. Then the bulghur had to be soaked for 30 minutes then all the water had to be squeezed out by hand. I imagine this would be easier with a cheesecloth, but I didn't want to argue about technique since it was my first time in the kitchen with the lamb and the meat grinder. Then the spices are just mixed in and it is ready to serve!

I made many, many loaves of fresh flat bread to serve with the kibbeh, but I didn't get any pictures, so I'll have to make that again so I can share my recipe and technique (which was adapted from a guide I met in Egypt who cooked his bread on a piece of scrap metal over an open fire--kind of hard to replicate in a Western kitchen.) I also took some of this kibbeh nayeh and turned it into another type of kibbeh, which is cooked, for those who don't indulge in raw meat. But again, I forgot to take a picture, so that will have to wait for another day too.

Kibbeh Nayeh
Serves many

1 leg of lamb, de-boned
3/4 cup of bulghur wheat (#2) per pound of meat
1 white onion
1 tbs. cinnamon
1 tbs. all spice
1 tsp. salt per pound of meat

-Remove all of the fat from the meat, discarding the fat.
-Rinse the bulghur thoroughly, then soak for 30 minutes in water.
-While the bulghur is soaking run the lamb meat through a meat grinder once.
-Cut an onion into small pieces and mix it with the meat. Mix in the cinnamon, all spice, and salt.
-Run the meat mixture through the meat grinder a second time.
-Squeeze all of the water out of the bulghur using your hands or, a sieve or cheesecloth.
-Mix the bulghur in with the ground lamb.
-Taste and adjust seasonings.
-Serve with pita or flat bread, olive oil, and thinly sliced onions.

Sautéed Swiss Chard

The first time I tried Swiss chard, I wasn't a big fan. I used it in a pasta dish with roasted garlic and the whole meal was just ok, nothing I wanted to make again. Then I started cooking Swiss chard the way I like to cook spinach and removed the stems, and I realized it was delicious. It is a slightly heartier green then spinach (but a little more tender than kale) and it has a more interesting, complex flavor, plus it is super nutritious. (I'm trying to make up for all those weeks of cookie and candy posts!) The stems can be sautéed as well, but I don't really like the flavor of them. If you do add them to the pan, make sure to sauté them slightly before adding the leaves because they take slightly longer to cook. You could also put the stems into a bag in the freezer with other vegetable scraps to make vegetable broth.

This side dish is fast enough for a weeknight dinner, but fancy enough for a holiday feast. I served it with the Christmas dinner, and people who don't even usually like spinach or other greens thought it was tasty.

Sautéed Swiss Chard
Makes 4-6 servings

2 bunches green Swiss chard (about 8 leaves)
glug of olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic
juice from 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup pine nuts

-Remove the leaves of the Swiss chard from the stems, rinse with water, and dry. Mince the garlic.
-In a small frying pan on moderate-low heat, toast the pine nuts, just until they are slightly golden brown and fragrant.
-Heat the olive oil in a deep pot on moderate heat, when it is hot, add the Swiss chard. Use tongs to toss the greens so they cook evenly. When they start to wilt, about four to five minutes, add the garlic. Cook for another minute, then remove from the heat. Don't let the Swiss chard over cook, it should be just wilted but still bright green.
-Season with salt and pepper and squeeze half a lemon on the greens. Toss in a serving bowl with pine nuts.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Beef Tenderloin w/ Balsamic Reduction and Braised Onions

This was the main dish for Christmas dinner. The beef tenderloin was delicious and simple, in fact the whole meal for 9 people came together in about two hours. Of course beef tenderloin is a bit pricey to be an everyday meal, but these braised onions are so melt-in-your-mouth amazing they would make any cut of beef or pork or even chicken taste special. The braising gives the onions a deep, sweet, carmelized flavor. They were a big favorite at the Christmas dinner. The onions take a long time in the oven, but the preparation couldn't be easier. The balsamic reduction is also a slow, but easy process that yields a delicious, and very different, "steak sauce." Even if you aren't a big fan of vinegar, the reduction process takes it from its normal, tart taste to a sweet, syrupy sauce.

Beef Tenderloin w/ Braised Onions
Serves 8-10 people

Braised Onions
4 onions
2 shallots, optional
4 cups of chicken broth
4 tbs. butter
pinch of salt
1 airline-size bottle cognac (50 ml, about 3.5 tbs.), optional

Beef and balsamic reductions
4-5 lb. beef tenderloin
3 tbs. butter
coarsely ground black pepper
2 cups good quality balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce

Braised Onions
-Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
-In a dutch oven* on the stove top on moderate heat, bring the chicken broth, butter, and pinch of salt to a simmer.
-In the meantime, cut the onions and shallots in half and remove the skin.
-When the chicken broth is simmering, remove the dutch oven from the heat and carefully place the onions cut-side down into the pot. Put the lid on the dutch oven and place it in the preheated oven. Braise for 1 hour.
-Remove the lid from the dutch oven, add the cognac, and return the onions to the oven. Braise for another 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the tops are golden brown and most of the liquid is reduced to a glaze.**

Beef and balsamic reduction
-One hour before serving time, put the balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce in a small sauce pan on moderate heat to reduce. The vinegar will reduce by more than half. It is done when it is a syrupy consistency that sticks to the back of a metal spoon. If you run your finger across the back of the spoon after it is dipped in the vinegar, your finger should form a clear line in the sauce. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper.
-Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
-Rub the beef tenderloin with the butter and sprinkle with the black pepper. Insert a meat thermometer into the heart of the meat.
-Place the tenderloin in the preheated oven. For medium doneness, cook until 140 degrees, for medium rare cook to 130-135 degrees. (Medium is actually reached at 145 degrees, but when the meat is removed from the oven, residual heat continues to cook the meat while it is resting.) Remember, the ends will be more done than the center.
-Place the tenderloin on a platter and tent with aluminum foil and let it rest for 10-15 minutes before cutting so the juices redistribute. Don't remove the meat thermometer probe until the meat is done resting or the juices will spurt out.
-While the meat rests, take the pan juices from the roasting pan and incorporate them into the balsamic reduction over low heat.
-Slice the tenderloin and serve with braised onions and warm balsamic reduction.

*If you don't have a dutch oven, you can heat the broth in a sauce pan, then place the onions in a deep baking dish, pour the broth over them, and cover the dish tightly with foil.
**When making the braised onions with the beef tenderloin, the oven temperature will have to be raised to 500 degrees for part of the time top cook the beef. The onions might cook slightly faster, but they will still be fine.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Winter Fruit Salad

Happy Holidays!

I know I have been negligent in posting for the last week or so, but I was enjoying my break. Now I have a backlog of recipes to share, including two old family recipes that I made with my parents, one Lebanese and one Italian. I'm still trying to get my act together from the holiday though, so for now I will share this beautiful winter fruit salad. I made this for our Christmas morning breakfast, and it was absolutely delicious. Simple, sweet, and refreshing, it's the perfect antidote to all those Christmas cookies and other fattening holiday food. The citrus and pomegranate give a very holiday feel to a dish that is normally associated with summer.

Winter Fruit Salad

2 grapefruits
2 oranges
1 pomegranate
1 bunch of fresh mint leaves

-Cut a thin slice off the bottom of the oranges and grapefruits so they can sit flat on the cutting board. Then going from top to bottom cut the rind and the pith (the white part between the rind and the fruit) from the fruit. Try to waste as little fruit as possible.
-Once the rind is removed use a sharp knife to carefully cut each segment out of the oranges and the grapefruits. Toss the segments into a serving bowl.
-To cut the pomegranate, make a thin cut all the way around the fruit, just deep enough to get through the skin, then twist the two halves to separate. Remove all the jewels from the pomegranate and toss in the serving bowl.
-Make a chiffonade from the fresh mint by rolling several of the leaves together longways, like you would roll a cigarette if you did that kind of thing, and cut very thin slices. Top the fruit with a sprinkling of the mint.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Dinner

I love Christmas, especially since I'm going home to my parents house. I thought this meant I was off the hook for cooking, but then I got a surprise. My mom called last week and requested a menu because she has been frantically redecorating, painting, scrubbing, etc. for the past few weeks to prepare a brand new guest bedroom for us! I'm willing to trade a real bed (as opposed to the rolled up daybed mattress) for dinner. Especially since Nic decided that he wanted to help out with the planning and cooking, and Poppop donated a beef tenderloin and lamb chops to get the party started. (He will also be making dessert, thank goodness, because I feel like I never want to look at a baked good again after all these holiday packages.) We used my brand new copy of The Flavor Bible to get some inspiration for the flavors.

Now I'm off to pack up my dutch oven, meat thermometer, and vegetable slicer...

Christmas Dinner
main course
beef tenderloin w/ a balsamic reduction
lamb chops in a soy and ginger marinade served w/ mint yogurt

side dishes
sauteed porcini mushrooms and shallots
braised leeks
sauteed Swiss chard w/ roasted pine nuts
glazed carrots
roasted red bliss potatoes w/rosemary
fennel and apple salad w/pecans
homemade bread

Friday, December 19, 2008

Chai Biscotti

Has this been the longest week in the history of the universe for anyone else? Just checking. Anyone want more hours in the day for Christmas this year? I'll settle for just two more, I'm not being greedy. Ok, I'll get to the point now.

This is my second batch of chai biscotti, and they are definitely my new favorite holiday cookie. I know I have said this a hundred times, but I'm not into sweet sweets, which seems like an oxymoron, but that is why I love these cookies. They are the perfect balance of bready, crunchy, coffee-dipping goodness. I haven't been having too much luck baking lately (why does every gingerbread I make taste funny? o there is more than one type of molasses, and I'm using the nasty, dark dark dark one? duh.) So when I decided to marry the spices from my favorite quick bread (chai-spiced bread) to my favorite biscotti dough (pecan and brown butter biscotti*), I just crossed my fingers. I had seen other recipes for chai biscotti on other blogs, but they all called for ingredients I didn't have or spice combinations that didn't remind me of chai at all. And so I forged bravely on. After a slight adjustment to the amount of flour, my idea worked! Unlike the gingerbread, these turned out great. The spices are warm but gentle, not overpowering like some spiced-cookies can be. Nic (who told me he doesn't like biscotti last week) loves these and almost ate all of them before I could send them to friends and coworkers. This weekend, I'm going to make another few batches. And leave the gingerbread for more skilled hands.

*Thanks to Poppop who sent me a batch of the pecan and brown butter biscotti, and Aunt Ellen who gave him (and me) the recipe, and Aunt Kristen that gave her the recipe! (whew, they came a long way, as all good recipes do.)

O and I couldn't resist taking a picture of these holiday goodie bags for my co-workers. My mom should be proud of how crafty I got. (Although she would prefer I call it artsy. She doesn't do crafts, she does art.) I am much more creative at 1 AM for some reason, I think the exhaustion frees my mind...or something like that. The cute little packages are hiding the not-so-fabulous gingerbread sticks. On Iron Chef they get points for presentation, so I should too, right? Just so you don't think I'm too on the ball, because I'm not, the greenery was ripped off my centerpiece and the stringy stuff came on a package of fake leaves I bought for Thanksgiving that I saved by wrapping it around a candle.

If you have never cooked with cardamom before, you should give it a try. The whole seeds add a delicious, exotic flavor when added to stews or rice or when you are brewing tea. A lot of Middle Eastern recipes call for cardamom pods. And the ground cardamom can be added to pretty much any baking recipe that calls for cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, all spice, ginger, or some combination of those. If you want a pronounced, chai-like taste, make sure there is more cardamom than any of the other spices. If you want a more subtle flavor, add it in about equal amounts to the other spices. Don't be thrown by the fact that it smells like cleaning solution before it is cooked, it won't taste like cleaning solution, I promise.

Chai Biscotti
Makes about 16 large biscotti or 30 small.

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus another 1/4 cup as needed
1 1/2 tsp. loose chai tea (about one tea bag)
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. (You will need two baking sheets if you want to make smaller biscotti.)
-Cook the butter in a small saucepan over moderate heat until brown and fragrant, about 8 to 10 minutes. Pour the butter into a bowl or baking dish to cool and harden. (This is what brown butter should look like.)
-In a medium mixing bowl, wisk together 2 3/4 cups flour, tea, baking powder, salt, cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves.
-In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a separate bowl with a hand mixer, cream together the sugar and the butter (it doesn't have to be completely re-solidified, but it should at least be completely cool and starting to harden). Add the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla.
-Slowly add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients, mixing on low until combined.
-The dough should be somewhat sticky, but possible to form into a loose ball. Add another 1/4 cup of flour if necessary and mix to combine. If you aren't sure, add the 1/4 cup, it won't hurt.
-Scrape the dough onto the parchment lined cookie sheet. (Divide the dough in half between the two cookie sheets for smaller biscotti.)
-Form the dough into a long, narrow log (about 3 inches across for one log, 2 inches across for two smaller logs). Pat the log down so it is about 1 inch thick.
-Bake for 25-30 minutes (20-25 minutes for two smaller logs). The dough should be slightly browned on top and cracked.
-Remove the log from the oven and use a serrated knife to cut the dough into 1/2 inch thick slices while still hot. (Use an oven mitt on the hand that holds the dough.)
-Arrange the slices on their sides on the cookie sheet, and bake for another 20 minutes or until the biscotti are golden. (The side touching the sheet will brown faster than the side facing up.)
-Transfer the biscotti to a wire rack to cool.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Two New (To Me) Cookbooks, And Where I Have Been

I'm not much of a cookbook person, but I have to say, I am so excited about my two new cookbooks! Nic gave me The Flavor Bible for my birthday, and I couldn't resist picking up How to Cook Everything when I saw it on super-sale at Costco. I read Mark Bittman's blog, and after much consideration decided that this was the perfect all-purpose, general reference cookbook which my small cookbook collection was lacking. (Sorry Joy of Cooking, you're just too old-fashioned for a modern girl like me. No offense.) All I have had time for so far is a quick scan of both, but I'm sure you will hear me (or rather read) reference these two books a lot in the coming months. What I like about both of them so much is that they are more general reference and less specific "have-to-follow-exactly" recipes, so they allow for a lot of creativity and flexibility.

I know I haven't been a very good blogger this week, and I know this is kind of cheating for a post, but I have mostly been remaking some of the holiday goodies that I posted last week for more packages for coworkers and friends. And this weekend I will be doing it all a third time for the family I will see on Christmas. I have made second batches of the candied pecans and almonds, both types of marshmallows, and the fudge--but this time I added 3/4 cup of dried cranberries, which made this SO much better. (I'll put a little note on the original post.) I am going to try out a few new goodie recipes for the rest of my packages tonight, if time permits, so those should be coming up soon. And eventually I will get back to cooking (and posting about) real food.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sesame Seed Cookies

Sesame seed cookies were always my favorite on my poppop's cookie platter. No one else ever seems to make these little guys! I don't know why. In my opinion they are the perfect holiday cookie. They are just a little sweet and have a nice crumbly texture--great with a cup of coffee or tea. I was really surprised when I saw them on the round-up of Gourmet magazines favorite cookies from 1941-2008. They were Miss 1955, although they were disguised as Biscotti di Regina (Queen's Biscuits). Even Gourmet says, "You may have forgotten about this Italian take on sesame seed cookies, but their cakelike texture and sweetness will remind you why they're an old favorite." Cakelike is kind of a stretch in my opinion, unless you make some really dry cake, but they are too good to be forgotten.

When I was in high school, I tried to make them from a copy of the recipe Poppop wrote on the back of an envelope for me. Thank goodness he lived five minutes away, because about half way through the recipe I had to call him for help. He came over and fixed the mess I made. This time around Poppop was 200+ miles away so I was on my own. Luckily, I have had a little more baking experience. Unluckily, I couldn't find my envelope with the recipe on it. I thought about calling Poppop for the recipe, but it was late, so I decided to use the Gourmet recipe for the ingredient proportions ::hanging my head in shame::

I started to follow the technique in the Gourmet recipe, and about one hand-made cookie ball in, I said to myself, "This is the most tedious way I could do this. Clearly the 1950s-era baker had a thing or two to learn about efficiency. I'm making them Poppop's way." So the technique is family tradition. And the ingredients are Gourmet.

I have to say, to me they tasted a little bit different than what I am used to, but I find I never like anything as much when I make it myself as I do when someone makes it for me! Convenient, I know. By the time they got to California, however, my aunt said they were great. She was probably just being nice. Either way, this is a 9/10 for a sesame seed cookie recipe. And when I get back to good-old PA next week, I will get you guys the original. Hopefully on an envelope again.

Sesame Seed Cookies
Adapted from Gourmet
Makes about 5 dozen cookies

1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 tbs. vanilla extract
5 cups flour
3/4 tsp. salt
2 tbs. baking powder
1/2 lb. sesame seeds

-In the bowl of a stand mixer or with a hand held mizer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg, then gradually add the milk and the vanilla.
-In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder.
-Make a hollow in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into it. Gradually incorporate the dry ingredients from the edges into the wet ingredients in the center. If the dough it too dry to shape into a loose ball, add a small amount of milk.
-Shape the dought into a ball and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
-Wash, drain, and dry the sesame seeds and preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
-Take a baseball size chunk of the dough and gently roll into a log shape about 1 inch across. The dough may start to separate as you roll it. Use your hands to press it into the shape. Use a sharp knife to cut the dough into 1 inch long pieces, at a bias. Roll the pieces in the sesame seeds and place them on the parchment paper. (Do this immediately after finishing cutting each roll. The seeds stick better right after the dough has been handled.)
-Repeat with the rest of the dough.
-Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Birthday Dinner

This weekend I had the pleasure of going out to eat with some friends on Friday night at Tallula's in Arlington. The dinner was delicious, but I couldn't possibly write anything resembling a review because the Gnome's Water (gin, lavender, and cucumber) and the Apples and Ale (apple cider and bourbon, I believe) were so strong. I know, I know, how un-foodie of me to order cocktails with a nice dinner, but it was my birthday dinner! Nic held up his side of the foodie relationship, ordering a lovely Zinfandel to go with his steak.

For much better pictures than you will ever see here, head over to my dear friend MK's blog (she's professional wedding photographer). She took some lovely pictures of the food and a not-so-lovely picture of me, awkwardly shirking from the camera after blowing out my candle. What can I say, I'm not photogenic.

In other food news, I think I may have made my new favorite biscotti recipe last night (CHAI FLAVORED), but unfortunately, I didn't measure the flour I had to add to get it to the right consistency, so I will have to make them again (the tragedy) and post the recipe later. In the meantime, I have some sesame seed cookies coming up as soon as I have a minute to edit the pictures!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Soft and Crispy Chocolate Cookies

Nic says he's not a picky eater, but at least once a day he says, "I don't really like..." This week that sentenced ended in "bready cookies." I have no idea what that means, but apparently he doesn't like biscotti or italian sesame seed cookies or gingerbread cookies. So basically he didn't like any of the cookies I was already baking. But I was feeling generous so I agreed to make a batch of his favorite chocolate cookies from his mom's cookbook. The oven was already preheated, I guess.

This was my second time attempting to make these. They are not the easiest cookies to make, but they are ridiculously delicious and chocolately. I think getting them to turn out is dependent on three major factors. 1) Let the dough get really cold. The recipe says to let the dough chill in the fridge until "firm, about 1 hour." Just leave it in over night. That's the only way I can figure to be sure it is cool enough. If it's not cool enough, these will not turn out. 2) Make the cookies into small balls. The recipe says 1 inch in diameter. Don't go over that size or the cookies don't spread out and cook evenly. 3) Make a small batch the first time to test your oven. These cookies are perfectly done for about a 1 minute window. The first batch I put in was not cooked enough and ended up soggy. The second batch was perfect, crispy and wafer like on the outside with a slightly soft center. The recipe says to bake 8 minutes on 350, but in my oven it took 12 minutes for these to be done. Maybe I should go buy that oven thermometer Alton Brown keeps telling me I need...

Well here's the recipe, good luck. As a funny aside, after making these I saw a little note at the bottom that the recipe originally came from Martha Stewart! I haven't made a Martha Stewart recipe since my mom and I almost killed our family with toxic decorations she told us to put on gingerbread cookies (apparently the cookies were only intended as decorations...). I also got a kick out of the fact that Martha apparently named them "Grammy's Chocolate Cookies." I can't picture Martha having a Grammy.

"Grammy's" or Soft and Crispy Chocolate Cookies
Apparently adapted from Martha Stewart via Miss Andrea

2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cups butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar, plus more for dipping
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract

-In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
-In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and the sugar until fluffy, then add the eggs and vanilla.
-Turn the mixer on low speed and gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture.
-Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge at least one hour, but preferably overnight.
-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
-Pinch off a small piece of the dough and roll into a 1 inch ball. Dip the top of the ball in granulated sugar. Place on baking sheet. Leave 1 1/2 inches between cookies, they will spread out a lot.
-Bake cookies 8-12 minutes, or until spread out and slightly puffed in the center. (The cookies will "fall" after baking, which gives them the appearance pictured).
-Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


I just made the WORST tasting gingerbread that has ever been made. And a double-batch! This means I wasted more than 4 cups of flour, 2 cups of molasses, and 2 cups of sour cream. And I have two bald, zest-less oranges in the fridge! I also now have nothing to bring to my running group Saturday morning. Where did this recipe go wrong?

I adore Ina Garten, she has the best recipes ever, but this one was NOT a winner. After consulting with Nic I confirmed that it wasn't just a matter of taste. This was pretty much inedible. I like not-sweet desserts, but this was beyond just not-too-sweet. The only thing I changed from the original recipe was that I omitted the white raisins and the crystallized ginger. I can't believe that those two mix-ins would have saved this. Maybe they are magical, but I just don't know...

Some one, please, send me a better gingerbread recipe. I don't have the heart, or flour, to test something else without a personal recommendation.

I will get back to regularly scheduled programming tomorrow morning.

Vanilla + Peppermint Marshmallows

O the torture I put myself through... and the messes I make.

Let me paint a picture for you, because while this was happening my hands were covered in marshmallow goop so I couldn't take a picture. I wish I had. Monday night, in a flurry of over-confidence, I decided that I could undertake marshmallow making on a week night. The flurry of over-confidence should be what tips you off, this is how all my great messes start. After a few hours, two techniques, two batches, and maybe a few unprintable words, I did have vanilla and peppermint marshmallows setting, waiting to be cut up the next morning. So in one sense, I was successful. I also had, and I am not exaggerating, confectioners sugar everywhere in my kitchen, across my living room, and on my cat. On. my. cat. How did that happen? O that's right, Nic loves torturing the cat so he decided to sprinkle her with the confectioner's sugar, because hey it was already everywhere else. I couldn't be too mad though because without his help this would have probably never turned out.

Now that I have thoroughly discouraged marshmallow making it seems, let me say that homemade marshmallows are far superior to store-bought marshmallows. I don't eat store-bought marshmallows, but these little guys, especially the peppermint ones are quite tasty, especially on top of a hot chocolate. The recipe requires very few ingredients. So these actually are worthwhile making, just don't make the mistake I made. And to give you all confidence, I will be making two more batches of these before Christmas to bring to my family.

Alton Brown says you can make mini-marshmallows by piping them through a pastry bag into strips, then cutting them when they set. He does this on his show and it looks so easy. In real life, it is a near impossibility. The marshmallow goop doesn't want to go into the bag, then it wants to come out the top, not the point, then it starts to cool before it is all piped and becomes impossible to work with. Unless you are a professional candy maker, just make the marshmallows in the pan and cut them into mini-marshmallows (the pink peppermint ones, batch #2, were done this way).

Adapted from Alton Brown
To make both flavors of marshmallow you need to do this process twice.


3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup ice cold water, divided
12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
Nonstick spray
Vanilla Marshmallows
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Peppermint Marshmallows
1 tsp. peppermint extract
6-7 drops red food coloring

-Set up the stand mixer with the wisk attachment. Put 1/2 cup of the water into the bowl with the gelatin. Don't mix. Just let it sit.
-In a small saucepan, combine the other 1/2 cup of granulated water, sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Heat over medium-high, covered for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover and clip a candy thermometer on the side so that the point is submerged but not touching the bottom or the sides of the pan. Continue to cook until the temperature reaches 240 degrees, this takes about 7 to 8 minutes, but don't try to guess based on time. Use the temperature.
-When the mixture reaches 240 degrees, immediately remove it from the heat. Turn the mixer on low and while it is running slowly pour the sugar mixture down the side of the bowl.
-When all the sugar mixture is added, turn the speed up to high and let it continue to whip until the mixture is very thick and lukewarm, about 12 to 15 minutes. During the last minute of whipping, add the extract (vanilla or peppermint) and the food coloring if you are using it.
-While the mixture whips, combine the confectioners' sugar and the cornstarch. Spray a 13X9 inch metal pan with non-stick cooking spray and coat generously with confectioners' sugar mixture. (You can also use two smaller pans. I lined mine with parchment paper first because they were glass.) Spray a spatula with non-stick cooking spray and coat it in the confectioners' sugar mixture as well.
-When the whipping is finished, pour the marshmallow mixture into the pans. Use the sprayed and coated spatula to push the mixture into the pan evenly. Sprinkle the top with another generous coating of the confectioners' sugar mixture. (At this point you can press the marshmallow gently to even out and bumps.)
-Let the marshmallows set for 4 hours or over night at room temperature. Reserve the rest of the confectioners' sugar mixture.
-Coat a cutting board with the confectioners' sugar mixture. Turn the marshmallows out into the cutting board. Coat a very sharp knife or a pair of kitchen scissors with the confectioners' sugar mixture. Cut the marshmallows into desired size. As you cut, roll the marshmallows in the confectioners' sugar so that all of the sides get coated. Also re-coat your knife or scissors frequently. You can't use too much. Excess will fall off of the marshmallows later. But if you use too little, they will stick and be much harder to work with.
-Store in an airtight container for up to three weeks.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gingerbread Stars

Another installment of my holiday package breakdown. Last night, I baked two more types of cookies and packed up the boxes. Today I'm off to the post office. Then I'm done! For a while at least... I can't believe people do this every year.

These gingerbread cookies ended up being my favorite item in the boxes, which was very surprising for me because I thought I didn't like gingerbread. I have no idea why I thought that, but I was obviously wrong. Now that I have discovered my new love for gingerbread, I'm going to try making a loaf.

These were great because they were not too sweet (you know me, I don't really like sweet things... except for those sour patch kids), but they had lots of flavor from the extra spices and the orange zest I added to the Paula Deen recipe, which I picked as the starting point based on the fact that it used molasses, since I have a big bottle of it for some forgotten reason. The decorating part of these was extremely trying. As you can see, I have not pictured the truly horrific looking ones. (There were many. The really ugly ones are a great excuse to eat some while you decorate.)

Gingerbread Stars
Adapted (spiced up) from Paula Deen

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar (she suggested dark)
1 stick butter, softened
2 large eggs
1/4 cup molasses
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting work surface
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. ground all spice
1/2 tsp. salt
zest from one medium orange, very fine

1 cup powdered sugar
2 tbs. milk
2 drops vanilla extract
food coloring

-Cream the butter and the sugar in an electric mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, then the molasses, and mix until combined.
-Sift together the dry ingredients (flour through salt) then add the orange zest.
-Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and use a spoon to combine.
-Remove the dough from the bowl, form into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Put it in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
-Let the dough sit at room temperature for 15 minutes or until it becomes pliable.
-Take about a quarter of the dough and use a rolling pin to roll out the dough on a floured surface until it is about 1/8 inch thick. Cut into shapes. Reroll scraps, repeat.
-Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes until just brown on the edges. Cool on wire racks before icing.
-Mix the powdered sugar with the vanilla and milk for the icing. This does not make very much icing, so two batches would be a good idea. Color as desired.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Holiday Packages + Dark Chocolate Fudge

Last night I had a marathon baking/making night. I was in the kitchen for seven hours. I was determined to finish the rest of the goodies for my first round of holiday packages so that I could send them out. Did this happen? No. I still have two cookies to make. But I did leave the easy ones for last.

But just in case you're curious about what is going in the packages (at least the first round)...

Holiday Packages:
Candied Pecans + Almonds
Dark Chocolate Almond Fudge
Gingerbread Stars
Vanilla + Peppermint Marshmallows
Hot Coco Mix
Pecan Biscotti
Sesame Seed Cookies

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not actually making the hot coco mix, although I might put it in some sort of pretty packaging. I did make the marshmallows though, and o what an experience that was, but I will save the story for another post. Stay tuned for the rest of the recipes and some packaging tips.

For now, here is a ridiculously easy recipe for dark chocolate and almond fudge from Katie over at Good Things Catered. This wins the award for the easiest treat in the package. It is very, very rich but not too sweet. I'm not a huge fan of fudge usually, but this tastes a little bit more like a chocolate bar to me. Why make it if it tastes like a dark chocolate with almond bar you can buy at the store? Because I can put in holiday packages if I make it. Also, did I mention how ridiculously easy this is? (Especially in retrospect, now that I've made marshmallows.)

Dark Chocolate Almond Fudge
From Good Things Catered


3 cups high quality dark chocolate, chopped (I used half Scharffen Berger 70%, half Ghirardelli 60%)
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup almonds, coarsely chopped (next time I will increase this to about 1 1/2 cups)

EDIT NOTE: Add 3/4 cup of dried cranberries (when you add the almonds) for a sweet and tangy addition to this fudge that is highly recommended.


-Line an 8X8 or similar sized pan with aluminum foil and coat with non stick cooking spray.
-Combine dark chocolate and condensed milk in a double boiler over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. (You can use a metal or plastic bowl placed on top of a sauce pan. Put about an inch or two of water in the saucepan, but it should not be high enough to touch the bottom of the bowl.)
-When it is melted and smooth, remove from the heat and stir in salt, vanilla, and almonds.
-Pour the chocolate into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and put it in the fridge for about 2 hours or over night.
-To slice: Remove from the fridge, remove from the pan, pull off the foil, and slice into pieces using a sharp, straight edged knife.
-Store at room temperature, covered.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Candied Pecans and Almonds

I decided that my holiday season could start this weekend. I like to wait a little longer than most people to get into the spirit because I don't want to get sick of Christmas music and cookies and the smell of pine (ok, I could never get sick of that last one) before the 25th. My company holiday party was this weekend, so I figured I could start the season at home. Saturday we finally finished cleaning up from Thanksgiving (!), so Sunday we bought a Christmas tree and did a little decorating (I'll post pictures later). On a side note: Several people gave me a hard time about buying a real Christmas tree, but I think I appreciate the smell of the pine more than the ease of pulling a pre-lit tree out of a box. Also, when the tree is as little as ours, it really only takes 5 minutes to put lights on it anyway.

We also did our shopping for the families our apartment building "adopted" for the holidays. We had to buy clothes for an infant and a 3-year-old. We hit up the Baby Gap for some stylish duds-- I think they have better clothes than the adult store!

Sunday night I started my Christmas "baking" so I could send packages to the friends and family we wouldn't be seeing over the holiday season. These candied nuts were a good place to start, the hardest part was cleaning the pans after they were done. Use parchment paper! I ran out and was too lazy to go get some, even though I ended up going out to buy it a few hours later. Bad idea.

I will blog about the rest of the treats going into the packages over the next week. Happy Holidays!

Candied Nuts
Adapted from New York Magazine

1/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup white sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
generous pinch of cayenne pepper
generous pinch of ground ginger
1 egg white
1 tbs. water
1 pound nuts (I did one batch of almonds and one of pecans)

-Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper
-Combine the sugars and spices in a bowl.
-Wisk together the egg white and water in another bowl.
-Put the nuts in a large mixing bowl. Pour the egg white mixture over the nuts and mix gently until they are all coated with a thing layer of egg white.
-Pour half the sugar mixture over the nuts, stir gently until combine, then pour the rest of the sugar mixture into the bowl, and stir gently until the nuts evenly coated.
-Pour the nuts onto the cookie sheets and using a spatula to spread them. They can be touching, but they should be in one thin layer, not piled on top of each other.
-Put the nuts into the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then take them out and stir them around, using the spatula to spread them into a thin layer again before putting them back in the oven for another 15 minutes, or until the sugar coating starts to look dry.
-Let the nuts cool, then break apart any that are stuck together and store them in an airtight container.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Snacks of Shame

This is how I know I'm having a bad day. I ate this:

And this:

Which were both after eating a burrito bowl from Chipotle for dinner. Shameful.

I developed a bad habit in college of eating large quantities of [some sort of gummy]+ queso+ diet coke while staying up to write papers. So when I worked three hours overtime to try to pull together a story about the conference I was at all day, I resorted to my snacks of shame to keep myself sane. I finished my story and filed it a few minutes ago. Now excuse me, I have to go lay down. I feel nauseous from all the cheese and sugar and jittery from the massive caffeine consumption. Hopefully tomorrow I will have some more pleasant eating to report.

Please feel free to share your snacks of shame in the comments. It will make me feel better about myself.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Fennel & Apple Salad w/Pecans

I never got around to posting that leftover turkey potpie recipe, did I? But I have a good excuse. I made it, but I didn't measure anything or take a picture. Then I was going to make it again to write down the measurements and snap a few photos...but then I realized I was so. sick. of. turkey. O well, you are too, right?

Here is something better--a light and beautiful salad with a really interesting combination of flavors. The hint of licorice flavor from the paper-thin slices of fennel plays off the sweet apple, which is also sliced into thin leaves. The simple lemony dressing brings the salad together, and the pecans add the perfect crunchy compliment. This dish includes seasonal ingredients without being heavy, which can sometimes be a challenge this time of year when the fresh produce lends itself more to hearty, heavy foods.

I served this salad with pan-seared halibut, simply seasoned with salt and pepper and served with ginger butter. Nic decided to make his into a sandwich, and I'm so glad he did. The halibut, ginger butter, and fennel and apple salad made a truly delicious fish sandwich, even if it was not particularly photogenic. Nic loved it so much, he called his dad to tell him about it before he even finished eating. (The halibut came from Nic's dad after all of ours went bad in the aforementioned freezer debacle.)

When my mom left a bulb and a half of fennel in my fridge last weekend, I had no idea what I was going to do with, but I'm so glad that she left it. Otherwise, I would have never thought to make this. I grew up eating fennel or finocchio, the Italian word for this vegetable (I didn't know the name for it in English until I was an adult), but only around Christmas time and usually by itself, picked from a plate with celery sticks and black olives.

I got to use my slicer for the first time to create the leafy apple and fennel slices. You could also use a mandolin, but this little guy is cheaper. You can get one at most kitchen stores, this one is from Williams-Sonoma. You might even be able to use a good vegetable peeler, but I haven't tried that. The best part about dinner tonight? The entire meal came together in 20 minutes.

Fennel & Apple Salad
Makes 2 large servings

1 bulb fennel
1 apple (about the same size as the fennel bulb)
juice from one lemon
1 to 2 tsp. olive oil
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup roughly chopped pecans

- Cut off the root end of the fennel. Using a mandolin or another kitchen gadget, thinly slice the the bulb of the fennel, stopping when you get to the stalks. (These can be reserved for another use.) Use the tool to do the same thing with the apple, turning to slice all sides and stopping before you get to the core.
-In a large bowl combine the fennel and the apple with the lemon juice, olive oil and salt and toss to combine.
-Plate the salad and top with chopped pecans. Garnish with fronds from fennel top.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving Leftovers

I just got these pictures from Carrie and I wanted to share them, even though I know everyone has already moved on to Christmas, as evidenced by the incessant carols playing in all stores and public places. I'll post a real leftover recipe soon: turkey pot pie, made entirely from leftovers. Then I guess I'll have to get in the holiday spirit and start baking Christmas cookies.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cran-Apple Pie...Better Than Raisin

It's really all in the title, everything you need to know.

This is my replacement for that goofy raisin pie on my original Thanksgiving menu that turned out to be such a dud. But this pie wasn't just better than the raisin pie, it was really great, in my humble opinion. I love the slight sweetness and the tangy tartness in this pie. I like apple pie by itself, but the addition of the fresh cranberries made this a much more interesting dessert with a more complex flavor. I did use the pie crust recipe from the raisin pie though, and it was nice and flaky.

I have been using fresh cranberries so much lately, I don't know what I'm going to do when they disappear from the markets. I think I might have to stock up on them and freeze them to make them last longer!

Cran-Apple Pie
Makes 1 standard pie

2 1⁄2 cups flour
1⁄2 tsp. salt
2 tbs. sugar+ extra for the top
1⁄2 lb. chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup ice cold water
4 cups tart apples, cored and sliced (about 5 medium apples)
1 cup fresh cranberries
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbs. orange juice
2 tbs. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 egg white

-Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Cut the chilled butter into very small pieces and add to flour mixture. Cut the butter into the flour using a pastry blender or two knives until the butter is in pieces the size of peas. Add ice-cold water to the mixture a few tablespoons at a time until the dough comes together. Form the dough into two balls, wrap in plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge for at least two hours.
-Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
-Combine apples, cranberries, sugar, orange juice, cornstarch cinnamon and nutmeg, and toss until combined.
-Roll out each piece of dough separately. (This is easier between two pieces of parchment paper.)
-Place the first piece of dough in the pie dish, pour in the fillings. Cover the top of the pie with the second piece of dough and seal the edges. Cut four vent holes in the top of the pie. Place the pie on a cookie sheet to catch any overflow from the pie.
-Brush the top 0f the pie with the egg white and then sprinkle with sugar.
-Bake for 45 minutes. Cover the crust with foil if it starts to get too dark.

NOTE:For a larger, deep dish pie multiply the recipe by 1.5 and bake covered with foil for 30 minutes, then uncovered for 30 minutes more.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Thanksgiving Miracle, Accomplished

I'm happy to report that we had a wonderful Thanksgiving. My family, good friends, and good food. There was a lot of laughing and good times, I am so thankful that my family and my best friends could be here. I love cooking, but more than that, I love sharing what I make with the people I love, so thank you Mom, Dad, Maxx, Jake, Donald, Nic, Carrie, Alec, Taylor, and Chris! And a BIG thank you to Poppop, who sent down pumpkin pie, cookies, and banana bread so my life would be a little easier.

I am thankful that we were blessed and able to enjoy this holiday during these tough economic times, because as Mom said last night, "By next year we might all be eating pigeon."
Even if we are, I will still be thankful for the family and friends. Besides, they make delicious pigeon in Egypt, I bet I can find a recipe for it...

Where to start with the food? I guess the logical place to start would be the turkey. I made a 13 lb. cider-brined turkey and two 4lb. turkey roulades. An unscientific poll came up 50-50 over the favorite. As final judge and arbiter, I'm giving the first-place, blue ribbon turkey prize to the cider-brined whole turkey (which I don't have a picture of yet, but I will get one up as soon as I get reports from my unofficial photogs for the evening). It was very moist and flavorful because of the brine, and it was considerably easier--just plop it in the bag with the brine for 24 hours, take it out, stick some oranges and herbs in the cavity, and roast.

The turkey roulade, on the other hand, required de-boning (ok, the butcher actually did that part for me, but I had to ask, twice!), pounding flat with a rolling pin, filling with stuffing and rolling up and tying with little pieces of string. In fairness though, the turkey roulade was delicious also, and it was quite a few peoples favorite, including Nic's. So it will be awarded a second-place ribbon and a permanent page protector in my recipe binder. (Where do recipes who do not earn a page protector go, you might ask. They get stuffed in the side pockets, become splattered with food, crumbled, and sometimes lost or forgotten. A sad fate.)

I know no one even wants to think about making turkey the Friday after Thanksgiving, but for the sake of preserving history, and my recipes in case I ever lose that binder, I'm going to post both recipes today. Feel free to ignore for the next 364 days, unless you are a turkey for Christmas person. In which case, this might be useful sooner.

Cider-Brined Turkey
9 cups cider (You can use water if you don't have cider.)
1 cup kosher salt
1 tbs. black peppercorns
1 tbs. all spice
6 cloves
2 bay leaves
7 cups of ice

1 orange, quartered
1 onion, quartered
bunch of sage
bunch of rosemary
olive oil

-Boil cider and the rest of the brine ingredients, except ice, for 5 minutes.
-Remove from heat and add ice.
-Remove neck and other innards, rinse turkey, and place turkey, breast side down, in large plastic bag (a trash bag works, but double bag to be safe).
-The brine should be cool from the ice. Pour brine over turkey. Cinch bag with rubber band and place in the fridge for 24 hours.
24 hours later...
-Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
-Remove turkey from brine and rinse. Place on a roasting rack, tuck the wings underneath the body. Stuff herbs in the bottom of the cavity, then fill with oranges and onion.
-Run your hand between the skin and the breast meat of the turkey. Stuff two small pads of butter between the skin and breast on each side. Now tie together the turkey legs with kitchen twine.
-Brush the outside of the turkey with olive oil and sprinkle with salt (just a little!) and pepper.
-Roast for 20-30 minutes in 500 degree oven, until the turkey is nicely browned. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to roast until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 165-170 degrees. Don't wait for the little pop-up to pop if you have one. The turkey will already be a little overcooked usually if you wait for that.
-Remove the turkey from the roasting pan and tent with foil. Let rest at least 30 minutes so the juices redistribute before you carve it.
-In the meantime, tip the roasting pan and skim some of the fat off the pan drippings. Stradle the roasting pan over two burners on medium heat. Add about 1 cup dry red wine (or white wine, or turkey stock, or vermouth...) to the pan drippings and reduce by half. Strain the pan drippings and reserve juices to serve with turkey or to add to gravy base.

-The turkey has to be defrosted before you brine it, or the brine won't really have the same effect.
-After you put the brine in the bag, try to pull the bag snug around the bird so that the brine is in contact with at least most of the bird. This is why you put it in breast side down, so you are at least sure the white meat, which tends to be what gets dry, is totally covered by the brine. (Credit where credit is due, the upside-down brining technique was Nic's idea.)

Turkey Roulade w/ Cranberry Stuffing
Adapted (i.e. simplified) from Gourmet
2 cups diced baguette
1 cup dried cranberries
cup water
cup diced celery
cup finely chopped onion
tsp. finely chopped garlic
tsp. finely chopped fresh sage
1 1/2
tsp. salt (I didn't measure this)
teaspoon black pepper (I didn't measure this either)
1/4 cup unsalted butter
large egg
cup whole milk

Turkey and Sauce
(4 1/2- to 5-lb) boneless turkey breast half with skin
cup medium-dry Sherry
cup soy sauce
whole cloves
bay leaf
cup apple cider

-Preheat oven to 350°F.
-Toast bread cubes on a baking sheet until dry and just beginning to brown around edges, 12 to 15 minutes.
-Put cranberries and water in a small heavy saucepan over low heat and simmer uncovered until cranberries are rehydrated and all the water is absorbed, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat. (Drain any water that doesn't absorb.)
-Cook celery, onion, garlic, and sage, in 2 tbs. butter in a skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat to let cool.
-Whisk together egg and milk in a large bowl, then add bread cubes, cranberries, and onion mixture, and season with salt and pepper. Let the bread absorb all of the liquid and let stuffing cool.

-Arrange turkey, skin side up, on a work surface with narrower, pointed end nearest you. Determine which long side of the breast is thickest, then, starting from that side and holding knife parallel to work surface, cut breast horizontally almost in half, stopping 1 inch from other side. Open breast like a book and put between 2 sheets of plastic wrap
-Pound turkey to 1-inch thickness with flat side of a meat pounder or with a rolling pin.
-Spread stuffing evenly over turkey, leaving a 1-inch border on all sides. Start rolling the turkey from the skin-less half toward the half with the skin, so that the skin ends up on the outside of the roll.

-Arrange rolled turkey breast seam side down, then tie crosswise at 1-inch intervals with string.
-In a heavy skillet, sear the roulade, seam side down first. Brown all sides of the roulade. If your skillet is oven safe and has high sides you can put it directly into the oven. Otherwise transfer the roulade to a roasting pan.

Pan sauce
-Combine sherry, soy sauce, cloves, bay leaf and apple cider.
-Pour this over the roulade, then cover the roulade with foil.
-Roast in 350 degree oven until the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees, about one hour.
-When the turkey is cooked, remove from roasting pan and tent with foil. Let the meat rest at least 20 minutes so the juices redistribute.
-In the meantime, stradle the roasting pan over two burners and reduce by half. Pour through a strainer and reserve the juices to serve with the roulade.

-You could brine the turkey breasts, using the cider-brine from the whole turkey, before assembling the roulade. This is what I will do next time to get the best of both. Although, as Mom said, this might make this recipe dangerously good.
-You can toast the bread cubes and flatten out the turkey breasts the night before.
-I did 1.5X the stuffing recipe for two turkey breasts that totaled about 6.5 lbs. This was the perfect amount for that much turkey. Then I made an additional 6X the recipe for a side, but I reduced the cranberries, using only 2 cups for the total 12 cups of bread cubes. That was plenty of cranberries in a side-dish stuffing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cranberry-Orange Bread for Bribery

Monday night, after my lovely book club trailed out the door and after I cleaned up, I remembered that I had promised to bake something for my office as a Thanksgiving treat. It was 10 p.m. and I had had some red wine, but I was determined not to disappoint. I have this theory that bringing snacks to work gives me a smidgen of extra job security. I'm not delusional. I still work really hard to do a good job. But I figure if times get tight, and they have to lay someone off, and they are choosing between me and someone else, and we both do the same work equally as well... then I'll have the edge. Because I bake bread. With this in mind I pulled my gigantic, five-pound bag of cranberries (I love Costco) out of the fridge at 10:15 p.m.

By 11:15 I had one normal size loaf and four mini-loaves of cranberry-orange bread. My pre-work taste test the next morning was a thumbs up. Cranberry and orange zest might be my new favorite flavor combination for the holidays, which is good news because I have a lot of cranberries left. (The scones from earlier this week were also this flavor.) The bread was deliciously tart, and the overall texture was very light for quick bread, which can sometimes get a little cakey. I was impressed with how good this tasted considering the relatively small amount of butter and sugar. Nic found it to be a little bit too tart, so I might consider adding few tablespoons of sugar to the cranberries before I mix them into the dough next time. If you don't like tart, you should definitely do this. If you are big fan of tart cranberries (like me), you can probably leave the recipe as is.

Cranberry-Orange Bread
Adapted from Good Things Catered
Makes 1 loaf

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour*
1/2 cup granulated sugar (+ 2-3 tbs. for sweeter, less tart bread)
1 tbs. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbs. grated orange zest
2/3 cup orange juice
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 tbs. unsalted butter, melted
1 1/4 cup fresh cranberries, coursely chopped

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
-Sift together flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
-Use a vegetable peeler to remove the zest from an orange, then finely chop the zest. Add zest to the flour mixture.
-In a small bowl, combine orange juice, eggs, and butter.
-If adding sugar to the cranberries, combine 2 to 3 tbs. sugar with chopped cranberries in a small bowl.
-Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
-Fold in cranberries.
-Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (Mini loaves take 35-40 minutes.)

*You can use 2 cups of all purpose flour if you prefer, but I find that half and half does not compromise the flavor or texture too much.

Note: I asked Katie, from Good Things Catered, if letting the bread chill on the counter wrapped up in plastic wrap, changed the flavor, since her original recipe called for doing this. She said: "If you wait a day or two [to eat the bread] the flavors meld and the bread ends up tasting a *bit* sweeter because of it. But not by much. It is fresh cranberry, so you could add some more sugar if you like." Thanks Katie! (P.S. Not only do we share a name, but she is also part Lebanese on her dad's side. Crazy, right?)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Ghost of Thanksgiving Past

Thanksgiving 2006

The last thing I remember was the ball of blue, firey gas barreling out of the oven. The force from the fireball, or maybe it was my natural reaction to reel backward, pushed me across the kitchen until the refrigerator brought me to an abrupt stop. I still had the match in my hand.

To explain how I ended up nearly blowing myself up, I have to back up about a day. We had a long weekend for Thanksgiving because we went to an American university in Cairo, and we were supposed to go to Upper Egypt to check out the tombs and whatnot. I was not even supposed to be making Thanksgiving dinner. Then Nic got sick, had a 104 degree fever, and we canceled our trip. I went to the pharmacy at the bottom of our building and bought Nic some super strength antibiotics and prayed they would bring the fever down. I had seen the inside of the hospital once, and I didn't want to go back unless the situation was really dire. I’m talking hit by a bus dire.

The square my apartment building sat on. I have no pictures of the kitchen for some reason...

This is when I decided to make Thanksgiving dinner. All our friends were gone, Nic was sick, and I had nothing else to do other than take his temperature every couple hours. I went to the big "Western" grocery store in the "suburbs" to get some things to make a "traditional" Thanksgiving dinner. I got everything I needed for stuffing, mashed potatoes, and even pumpkin pie. I bought a little chicken to stand in for the turkey. Everything was going smoothly. Until I had to light the oven.

Our stove was a 1950s gas model that had seen better days. You had to turn on the gas then light the pilot with a match. To light the oven though you had to turn on the gas and leave the door shut for just a minute or so or else the pilot would never light. I guess I left the door closed for a minute too long.

I jumped up from the floor in front of the refrigerator screaming, "I'm on fire! I'm on fire!"

I wasn't actually on fire, but I was at a loss for words to describe what had just happened.

Nic, delirious with fever, came running to meet me on my way to the bathroom. I felt my face. It was still there. I felt my neck, that was ok too. Then I grabbed my hair. And it came out in my hand. I started wimpering. Confused to see me not actually up in flames, Nic grabbed me and started shaking me. "Are you ok, do we have to go to the hospital?"

I couldn't really form words. I was staring into the mirror wimpering, watching a significant portion of my bangs flutter into the sink. I leaned into the mirror and saw that my eyelashes were also gone.

"Are you crying because you’re hurt or are you crying because you lost your hair."

"My hair," I wimpered.

I know it’s vain, but I really liked my eyelashes. They were ALL gone. But other than that, I was ok. No visible burns, except for a squiggly line across my neck where the flame hit the chain from my necklace and a very uncomfortably warm face for about a day. I still managed to finish Thanksgiving dinner. The pie even turned out somehow. Neither Nic nor I went to the hospital. But I know how lucky I was to walk away with just a handful of stinky burnt hair. This is why I will never, ever deep fry a turkey. I don’t want to press my luck.

Six months later when we were moving out, we told our landlady that we thought the oven was a little dangerous.

"That oven? I love that oven! That’s the best oven I’ve ever owned! There’s nothing wrong with that oven. You just don’t know how to work an oven."

I guess not.

Monday, November 24, 2008

They might have had a point when they said to test it.

I told Nic I was making raisin pie for Thanksgiving. He said that sounded horrible. I told my mom I was making raisin pie for Thanksgiving. She said that sounded horrible. And that no one likes raisins.

I tried to argue the point that the pie was actually made from white raisins, which are not the same at all, but my ever-skeptical cooking advisers were having none of it. I have had this raisin pie recipe bookmarked for more than a month because it just sounded so cool. I mean, have you ever had raisin pie? I didn't think so. I could make pumpkin pie sure, but no one is going to look at a pumpkin pie and go, wow how unexpected. Obviously I was not going to abandon the raisin pie idea without a fight. And fight I did. By baking a test pie Saturday night.

The good news is raisin pie is not awful. The bad news is, it's not exactly a home run either. The main problem for me was that it was incredibly, incredibly sweet. Kind of like pecan pie, which is also too sweet in my opinion. I think that the pie would benefit from about a half cup less sugar than the recipe calls for and maybe some cranberries thrown in to make it more tart, say a half a cup or so. My friend Claire, who graciously agreed to participate in the taste test, suggested serving it with vanilla ice cream to break up the strong flavor.

The changes would make it better, but the thing is, eating raisin pie is also just kind of strange. I can't quite wrap my mind around it. I think it's the texture that's strange. It's like chewing on handfuls of raisins straight from the box. So basically I'm going to make a different pie for Thanksgiving. It won't be pumpkin, but it probably won't be as far out as raisin either.

O well, at least I got a great pie crust recipe out of it! If nothing else, check out the recipe for the crust, which is enough for a top and a bottom crust. Instead of refrigerating the crust for an hour or more, ever impatient, I put it in the freezer for 45 minutes and that worked great.

In case you missed it, the recipe for the raisin pie is here. I switched pecans for the walnuts, but other than that I made it the same. If you make it with any of the above recommendations let me know. But I'm guessing after my review, not many people are going to run to the grocery store to pick up the white raisins to make this.