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.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Best Scones in the World, in My Opinion

If you ever bake one thing I post on this blog, make it these scones. These are the single most worthy use of flour, butter, and sugar I have ever offered up here. These scones are the perfect combination of tart and sweet and they are SO light and moist, especially for scones which tend to be a little on the dry side. You don't even need clotted cream or jam or butter or whatever else it is you normally put on your scones if you eat these when they are fresh out of the oven. I made one batch (which only yielded about 8 scones), and then decided I better make another, they are that good.

I made these this weekend and flash freezed them on the baking sheet (before baking), then put them in ziploc bags to store in the freezer until Friday morning. I actually picked this recipe because there was a note that said you could bake the scones right out of the freezer, which sounded like about the right amount of work for the Friday morning after Thanksgiving.

Then I spent the rest of my Sunday in the kitchen making turkey stock and snacks for book club tomorrow. (Why host one dinner a week when you can host two?) Neither the stock nor the snacks were as inspiring as the scones, although I did remember why I hate making mini-anything--it is 20X more work than making the normal size. Pumpkin pie from a can? Easy. Mini-pumpkin pies from a can? %$*&$%#

Back to the scones. Make them. Technically you can substitute dried cranberries, but I really don't think they would be the same. Also the original recipe called for lemon zest, but by batch number two all my lemons were bald already, so I used orange zest and it worked just as well.

Cranberry Scones

From SmittenKitchen, which adapted from Gourmet
Yield 8 scones

2 tbs. lemon or orange zest (from about 2 large lemons; or 1 navel orange)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar plus 3 tbs. additional if using fresh cranberries
1 tbs. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 stick (6 tbs.) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 1/4 cups fresh cranberries, chopped coarse (approx. in quarters)
... or 1 1/4 cups dried cranberries (but it won't be as good!)
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 cup heavy cream

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees if baking immediately.
-Peel the lemons or orange with a vegetable peeler, then finely, finely chop the zest.
-Combines the flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles a course meal. The easiest way to do this, without a food processor which would really be the easiest way, is to dice the butter very small and make sure each piece is separated before you add them into the flour. The flour will keep them from sticking back together so shake the bowl before adding in more pieces. Then use two knifes to cut the butter pieces even finer.
-In a small bowl combine the chopped cranberries and the sugar, then fold these into the flour mixture. (Don't add sugar if you use dry cranberries, just fold them directly into the flour.)
-In another small bowl beat the eggs and the cream.
-Mix the liquid mixture into the dry mixture, just until combined.
-On a lightly flour surface, dump the dough out and press it into a 1 inch thick circle with your hands. Using the top of a glass that has been dusted with flour, or a circular cookie/biscuit cutter, cut out scones and place them on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Gather the scraps and reform into 1 inch thick circle as needed until all the scones are formed.
-If baking immediately, bake in 400 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until a pale golden color.
-If freezing, place baking sheet in the freezer for at least one hour or until the scones are hard and frozen. Place the scones in a freezer bag until ready to bake. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until a pale golden color.
-Serve as soon as they are cool enough to handle.

EDIT NOTE 11/28: Baking these straight from the freezer didn't work that well. I would defrost them on the cookie sheet the night before. Otherwise the outside is browned before the inside is cooked.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Thanksgiving Miracle

That's what I'm going to call it if I manage to pull off Thanksgiving for 12-15 in my 700 sq. ft. apartment. And even though I'm nervous about space, I have been having a lot of fun planning the menu for the last week. Alton Brown tried to scare me Monday night by saying that you should never make anything you have never made before on Thanksgiving, but where's the fun in that? I figure I have enough old standbys on the menu to mitigate any new recipes run a muck. Now that everything is planned, the next step is figuring out the exact configuration necessary to fit all the ingredients into the refrigerator...

Picture courtesy of Flickr user Sage

The italics in the menu are items someone else is bringing to the table. Can you hear the sigh of relief? I'll try to put links into this post as I get the recipes up. I will probably post one or two recipes I've made in the past before Thanksgiving, so check back!

before the meal

fresh vegetables w/ dilly yogurt dip
candied pecans and almonds
Taylor's holiday cocktail
pumpkin soup w/ savory whipped cream

main attraction
apple cider brined turkey stuffed w/herbs and citrus, served with pan juices
turkey roulade w/ cranberry stuffing

mashed sweet potato casserole w/walnuts
garlic-chive mashed potatoes
simple sage stuffing
cranberry-orange chutney
warm caramelized carrot and raisin salad
string beans w/almonds
mixed green salad
buttermilk biscuits
honey yeast rolls

the icing on the cake
raisin pie
pumpkin pie
orange and pomegranate fruit salad

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Homemade Pepper Spray and Black Bean Soup

Does anyone know what happens when you try to soften jalapeño peppers by sautéing them for a few minutes in a pan? You fill your kitchen with a noxious gas somewhat akin to pepper spray. In fact, I'm fairly sure if you could figure out how to bottle it, you would have a self-defense mechanism. The sad thing is that I vaguely remember learning this lesson once before, albeit with crushed red pepper (used in a rub on steak and then thrown on a stovetop grill), but I still managed to repeat the mistake when I was making jalapeño-chedder cornbread last night. I was working from a recipe that called for canned chilis and since those are soft, I thought I should soften the jalapeños I was substituting for them. Then I sneezed and wheezed for the next hour.

The worst part is that the cornbread was HORRIBLE. I realized something was wrong with the recipe when the dough came out like soup, so I tried adding another cup of cornmeal and some flour. Even that wasn't enough though. After more than an hour in the oven, the cornbread was more like spoonbread. The flavor was good, but it was not cuttable or crumbly. Nic tried to make me feel better by saying, "Cornbread is hard to make." But let's be honest. It really isn't.

Luckily, dinner was not a total disaster because the black bean soup I made was a success. The soup turned out really delicious and was much easier to make than the cornbread. Added bonus it's really healthy, and if you use vegetable broth (I didn't have any in the pantry), it is even vegetarian. I'm sure it would be great served with, say, a slice of cornbread. Or something like that.

Black Bean Soup
Makes 4 dinner servings

1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic minced
glug of olive oil
1 jalapeño, minced (and deseeded if you want a milder soup)
1 tomato, diced
3 (15 oz.) cans black beans
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. salt

-Heat a large pot with a glug of olive oil on medium heat. Sauté the bell peppers, onion, and garlic for 5 minutes, just until the start to soften. Add jalapeño, tomato, black beans, and broth.
-Bring soup to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower the heat and simmer 15 minutes.
-Season with chili powder, cumin, and salt.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Irish Soda Bread w/ Dried Cranberries

Sometimes, in over ambitious moments, I buy ingredients because I plan to make something. Like when I bought buttermilk to make a pumpkin butterscotch layer cake on a Friday night to bring to a friend's house Saturday morning. (Never happened.) Then I have a quart of buttermilk sitting in the fridge giving me the evil eye every time I open the door. I can hear it saying, "I'm going to go bad and smell awful and make you feel guilty for wasting me." Drives me nuts. And it's not like you can just throw some buttermilk on your cereal in the morning.

Then I saw this recipe that called for buttermilk on blog I like to read, herbivoracious, and it had about 15 less steps than the pumpkin butterscotch layer cake, and I don't even want to guess how many less calories. So last night when I got an unexpected reprieve from cooking dinner, I decided to make this so my oven didn't get lonely. It seriously took me about 10 minutes, start to finish, including washing the bowl, and there is only one bowl to wash. I really don't know why I ever made bread with yeast. This is just as good and there is no rising and kneading (well there's a little kneading, but nothing intense.) And there is no chance the bread will rise too much, overflow the bowl and make a mess. Not that I ever do that.

The bread was delicious for breakfast this morning with a little bit of butter. It's not a sweet bread but a nice hearty bread with a little tangy sweetness around the edges because of the cranberries. It is little bit denser than yeast bread, but not that much denser. (And if you live around here, where you can't buy decent bread even if your life depends on it, then it is probably lighter than some of the bread you've eaten.) A much better way to make buttermilk into breakfast than pouring it on your cereal. I will definitely be making this again, maybe with something else folded in instead of cranberries or maybe plain.

Irish Soda Bread w/ Dried Cranberries
Adapted from herbivoracious, which adapted from Saveur magazine. Go ahead adapt your own.


2 cups pastry flour*
2 cups whole wheat flour
4 tbs. sugar (use 2 tbs. for a plain loaf)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
4 tbs. butter, cool
1 cup dried cranberries
1 egg, beaten
2 cups buttermilk

-Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
-Sift together flours, sugar, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl.
-Cut in butter using two knifes until the butter is in very small little chunks (smaller than a pea).
-Mix in the egg and buttermilk with a spoon. A loose dough should form. It should be sticky but able to hold the shape of a ball.
-Add the dried cranberries and knead them into the dough. You can do this in the bowl.
-Grease a cookie sheet and place the ball of dough on the center.** Cut an X in the top with a sharp knife.
-Bake for 40 minutes or until the bread sounds hollow. (Internal temperature should be 180 degrees, if you have a meat thermometer you can use).

*herbivoracious notes that the pastry flour will make a more tender bread, but you can basically use 4 cups of any flour. I trusted him on this and used the pastry flour, and my bread was very tender indeed.

**The loaf pictured is half of this recipe. You can make it all as one loaf or you can divide it in half and make two smaller loaves. When making smaller loaves, it takes slightly less time to cook, 30-35 minutes.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Linguini w/ Clam Sauce

Some big cooking news came in this weekend: I will be hosting Thanksgiving dinner! (In my 700 sq. ft. apartment! For 12-15 people!) When you have a kitchen that small and that many people, you have to plan ahead. I ordered my turkey (free range, but not organic, I had to draw the line). I already have the menu down, except for the stuffing. I have figured out exactly how many and which casserole dishes fit in the oven. I bought two size roasting pans so I'm prepared for however big the turkey turns out to be. I have assigned tasks--Mom is bringing that huge salad she makes, Poppop is in charge of pies (if he decides to grace us with his presence), and Taylor is coming up with a fall cocktail to entertain pre-dinner. And I have contemplated exactly how to rearrange the furniture so we all actually fit!

So there will be quite a few Thanksgiving posts in the next few days, but for now, this very un-Thanksgiving recipe will have to do. One of my favorite meals my Mom makes, as I mentioned last week, this is how I make it. (How does she make it? Who knows, she doesn't measure anything or write anything down.)

This is my favorite pasta that is fast and easy to make. (Meat sauce doesn't count, it takes all day.) Even people that don't usually like clams (::Nic::), can appreciate this pasta. The flavor is not too fishy or too clammy. And you will be amazed how creamy the sauce gets without using any cream and with very little butter. It only takes as long to make as it takes for you to boil the water and cook the linguini. Be careful though, it is way too easy to eat several helpings.

Linguini w/ Clam Sauce

Makes 4 large servings.

1 lb. regular or whole wheat pasta (I use whole wheat.)
2 tbs. butter
2 tbs. flour
4 (6.5 oz.) cans minced or baby clams, with juices
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
2 tbs. fresh chopped parsley

-Put pot of water on to boil. When the water boils, put the linguini in immediately.
-In a large sauté pan, melt butter on medium heat. Mix in flour and cook for 1 minute, just so the roux starts to darken slightly.
-Mix in clams (do not drain!) and bay leaf. Let the sauce simmer and reduce for 10 minutes or until it thickens. Add wine, and let it reduce again for 10 minutes or until the linguini is finished cooking.
-Cook the linguini according to the package directions for al dente/firm. Drain the linguini.
-Add the salt, red pepper, and parsley to the sauce, and stir. Add the linguini to the sauté pan with the sauce and toss with tongs.
-Serve topped with grated Parmesan cheese.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Cream of Mushroom Soup From Memory

I have an addiction to the Food Network. If Nic wasn't ferociously defending the remote control, it is the only channel I would watch. I don't like all the shows--a certain perky lady that adores acronyms kind of gets to me--but shows like Iron Chef and Good Eats absolutely enthrall me. I get mad when someone changes the channel during the commercial.

But even though I watch a lot of cooking shows, I almost never make anything I see made. I don't know why. I take some of the general advice I get on the shows, like Alton Brown's explanation of why brining makes meat more juicy, but I never feel compelled to make what I see made. Until this mushroom soup.

To be honest, if I hadn't found out my parents were coming to visit with only 24 hours notice, I probably would have never made this either. Without ample menu-planning time, I panicked. I had nothing prepped so I had to make whatever it was I was going to serve after work. And I had to buy anything I needed on the way home. I had the recipe for apple pizza lying around from when I searched for every recipe requiring apples known to man after coming home with 20 pounds of apples a few weeks ago. But apple pizza does not qualify as a meal. My solution to foods that don't quite cut it as a meal is usually to add a mixed green salad with a bunch of junk on top. But even with the salad this was looking pretty shabby. Then I remembered watching Barefoot Contessa a few days earlier, and she made this awesome cream of mushroom soup that didn't look too hard to make. A quick search later, and I had the recipe. I gathered my belongings from my cube and left work to go grocery shopping.

Two metro stops later I realized I forgot the recipe. And if you remember from earlier posts, my apartment=Internet dead zone. So I had to recreate it from memory. The good news is I didn't forget any major components and the soup was really delicious. It was creamy without being overwhelmingly rich, and I was surprised how flavorful the stock turned out. Nic apparently doesn't like mushrooms (who knew?), but he ate two bowls. But you are probably starting to think that all I ever make is soup.

Cream of Mushroom Soup
What I remembered from this recipe

5 oz. fresh shiitake mushrooms
5 oz. fresh baby portobello mushrooms
5 oz. fresh cremini mushrooms
glug of olive oil
1/2 lb. butter (1 stick)
1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, chopped
handful of fresh thyme
kosher salt
black pepper
2 leeks, chopped (dark green tops removed)
2 tbs. flour
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 cup heavy cream

-Wipe the mushrooms with a damp paper towel. Do not submerge them in water; they will get tough. Remove the stems and set aside the caps. Roughly chop the stems.
-Stock: Heat a glug of olive oil in a large pot. Add the mushroom stems, onion, carrot, and thyme. Add a dash of salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat until the vegetables soften. Add 6 cups of water and bring the stock to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 30-45 minutes or until the stock tastes flavorful. Strain and reserve the liquid and return just the liquid to the pot. You should have 4 cups of stock. (Add some water if you have less.)
-While the stock is cooking, in a large saute pan melt the stick of butter. Add the leeks and cook over medium low heat until the leeks start to soften and brown, about 15 minutes. Slice the mushroom caps in1/4 inch slices. Add the sliced caps to the browned leeks. Cook until the mushrooms are tender, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the mushroom-leek mixture and stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute. Add the white wine and scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Let the mixture sit on low heat until the stock is cooked.
-Add the mushroom-leek mixture, then the the half-and-half and the cream to the pot with the stock. Salt and pepper to taste. Heat through, but don't let the soup boil.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Breakfast Burritos

When I started this food blog, my dear friend Taylor immediately told me that I should post this recipe. She fondly remembered me making these for breakfasts for our little group of friends a few summers ago in a tiny one bedroom apartment, converted into a two bedroom apartment I shared with three other people. (Don't even try to imagine it. It was horrible.) Next to my chili, this is probably the meal I have cooked most often for my friends, and they either really like it or don't have the heart to ask me to stop making it.

It took me awhile to get around to making my breakfast burritos for the blog though because they are not the type of meal you whip up for two. But last weekend while Nic and I were staying with MK and Joe in Frederick, MD, we made them these for breakfast. (Well, I made them. Nic was holding their puppy.) I didn't put the turkey bacon in because I forgot to get it at the grocery store, but they were still delicious. I had forgotten how much I love these. They were so good I made them again Tuesday morning when I was off for Veteran's Day. (Mom and Dad liked them too.)

Breakfast Burritos
Makes 6 burritos

6 10 inch flour tortilla shells
9 eggs (I use 5 whole eggs, and 4 whites), scrambled
6 slices turkey bacon
4 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
canola oil
2 tbs. butter
kosher salt
black pepper
cayenne pepper
chili powder
garlic powder
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
sour cream

-Heat a glug of canola oil and butter in a large frying pan. Add in potatoes and cook for 5 minutes, until they start to get tender. Add diced onion and season with salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, chili powder, paprika, and garlic powder to taste. (If you aren't sure how much to use, go easy on the cayenne and the garlic powder. You can be a little more heavy handed with the other spices.)
-While the potatoes cook, heat a second pan and cook turkey bacon. Place the bacon on paper towels and set aside. Clean out the pan and cook the scrambled eggs.
-When the bacon, eggs, and potatoes are all done, heat the tortilla shells in the microwave for 1 minute.
-Assemble tacos: potatoes, then eggs, then bacon, topped with cheddar cheese. Garnish with snipped chives, salsa, and sour cream.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Apple and Caramelized Onion Pizza

First, thank you to everyone who commented on their mom's best dishes, it was a lot of fun reading about those. I made my mom guess the five foods I listed (since she rarely reads this blog), and she got most of them right away, although the corned beef and cabbage threw her off. After blogging about all the good food my mom makes on Monday, Monday night I got to make dinner for my mom and dad for the first time in my apartment! They came down to visit for Veteran's Day, and we went to Mt. Vernon and this amazing cheese store in Del Ray called Cheesetique, which I will have to write more about later.

Monday night for dinner I made this apple and caramelized onion pizza with cream of mushroom soup (coming soon!) and salad. The meal turned out really delicious, and everyone liked the pizza, especially the caramelized onions. My mom and Nic both told me that it would have been better with Gorgonzola cheese instead of cheddar, and although I hate to admit when either of them are right, I think it might be true. You couldn't really taste the flavor of the cheddar even though it was sharp because the apples and caramelized onions had such a strong taste. The original recipe didn't call for caramelized onions, but they definitely made the pizza much more interesting than it would have been with just apples. They also made it feel more like a savory dish as opposed to a dessert. And of course, I love anything you can make with puff pastry because it means I don't have to struggle with making my own dough. I will definitely be making some variation on this next time I have company over.

Apple and Caramelized Onion Pizza
Adapted from Gourmet

1 frozen puff pastry sheet, thawed and rolled out to 15X12 inches
2 tbs. bread crumbs
3 1/2 tbs. butter, divided
3 medium apples, cored and thinly sliced
3 tbs. sugar
dash of salt
2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 cup grated sharp white cheddar (or substitute Gorgonzola)

-Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
-Melt 2 tbs. butter on medium-low heat in a skillet. Add onions and cover. Cook over medium-low heat covered for 25-30 minutes or until the onions are a dark caramelized color. Try not to lift the lid often.
-Roll out the puff pastry on a flour surface with a floured rolling pin. Transfer to baking sheet and poke holes in the surface with a fork. Sprinkle the dough with breadcrumbs.
-Combine apples with 1 1/2 tbs. melted butter, then add sugar and salt and mix.
-Spread thin layer of apples on dough, leaving a one inch margin around all of the sides. Fold the puffy pastry edges up and over the edge of the apples.
-Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until apples are tender. Spread the caramelized onions on top of the apples then sprinkle with cheese and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes, until the cheese is slightly browned and bubbly.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Top 5: Favorite Foods My Mom Cooks

I have been a little lazy in posting lately, but I swear I have an excuse! The wireless Internet connection we were "borrowing" from some friendly, unknown neighbor seems to have bid us adieu. It happened right around the time of the election so I'm guessing that the friendly neighbor is the one who worked for the campaign that did not win the election. What is the opposite saying of "every cloud has a silver lining?"

I have at least two good meals and a bread to post, but since I am not at my home computer because of the Internet problem, I have no pictures. So for now, this will have to hold you over...

My Top 5 Favorite Foods My Mom Cooks
1. Linguini w/ clam sauce (that's one of the meals I have ready to post!)
2. Pork chops with tomato sauce sauerkraut
3. Easter bread
4. Veal stew
5. Corned beef and cabbage (why does my Italian mother make this so well? I have no idea.)

Share your Mom's best bites in the comments.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Caramel Apple Muffins

Last weekend we finally went apple picking, on the last possible day before the closest orchard to us in Virginia closed. We had the camera all ready to go, and then forgot it on the kitchen counter. Of course. The orchard was beautiful, and the day was perfect. It was warm and sunny, for early November, and the hills were covered in fall colors. We had a blast pulling the apples off the trees with the hooky basket contraptions they give you. Maybe we had too much fun, because we ended up with 20 pounds of Stayman and York apples (and a gallon of apples cider). I don't know if this happens to anyone else, but when you are in the open air, it never seems like that much fruit. Then when you get it into your kitchen it expands exponentially. How does that work?

I've been eating apples with cheddar cheese, apples with homemade caramel, and apple pie all week. (I'm not a fan of my apple pie. My poppop's is better.) As a side note, making caramel is not nearly as hard as I thought it would be. I read David Lebovitz's Ten Tips for Making Caramel and How to Make Perfect Caramel, got totally freaked out and afraid it would be a disaster/a third degree burn, then proceeded to use this Smitten Kitchen recipe. Easy breezy. No burns, and I even burn myself straightening my own hair in the morning.

So basically after consuming copious amounts of raw apples+topping, I felt like I should bake them into something. My aforementioned pie was still in the fridge less than half eaten, and I didn't want another desert sitting around that I would feel guilty wasting and guilty eating.

I adapted this muffin recipe from the power muffin recipe I usually use, so these are actually a decently healthful breakfast. Since I had the homemade caramel in the refrigerator I decide to use that to sweeten the muffins instead of just sugar. They aren't actually super caramelly because I didn't use that much, in the interest of keeping them from being calorie bombs, but they are tasty. I also made the applesauce to use in the muffins so that I could use up some more apples before they start to get funky. I only used 3 tbs. sugar to 10 small apples this time for the applesauce, so it was not as sweet as store bought applesauce.

Caramel Apple Muffins
Makes 12

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 eggs
1 cup apple cider (or juice)
1/2 cup applesauce
1 1/2 cups apples, diced small
1/2 cup caramel

-Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a muffin pan with cooking spray or fill with paper muffin cups.
-Mix the first seven dry ingredients (up to and including baking soda) in a large bowl. Beat the eggs and stir in the apple cider and applesauce.
-Add wet ingredients to the dry mix. Stir until combined, then fold in the caramel and the diced apples. (Microwave the caramel for 20 seconds if it is not runny.)
-Spoon into muffin tin. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Pasta Fagioli

When I was planning for Halloween, pasta fagioli was the first thing I thought of making. Which probably sounds weird to most people since it does not have any pumpkin or candy in, on, or even near it. But I always associate it with Halloween because my Mommom used to make a big batch of it as a pre-trick-or-treating meal for my cousins and brothers and I (and the assorted family friends, extended family and neighbors that came in and out of the house all night). I vividly remember shuttling bowls of it between Mommom's ladle in the kitchen and the costumed kids at the dining room table. (In case you didn't have the privilege of knowing me at the time, I was both the oldest cousin and the biggest suck up. I guess I'm still the oldest at least.)

I love pasta fagioli, probably about 50/50 for its taste and its nostalgia. And Mommom was smart, it was the perfect Halloween dinner for that many kids: cheap, hearty, easy. I didn't actually get around to making it on Halloween this year--Friday nights+kitchen+Kate=not happening--but I made it the day after. And I ate it that day, the next day, the day after that, and so on. A non-nostalgic Nic also gave it a big thumbs up. So to sum up it is delicious, hearty, cheap, and very re-heatable.

Also, by some miracle, this is the first pasta dish I'm posting. Bizarre. I think I grew up eating pasta 3 times a week at least...

Pasta Fagioli*
Makes 8 servings

1 garlic sauce recipe
1 lb. ground beef (can be a little more or less)
1/2 medium onion
3 15.5 oz. cans kidney beans, drained**
1/2 lb. ditalini pasta or other very small tube (can be a little more or less as well)
-Prepare the garlic sauce. Allow it to simmer for about 30-45 minutes so it gets flavorful. Make it on the watery side so the pasta fagioli will be soupy. The noodles will absorb some of the water. (It should be soupier than the picture. It had been refrigerated at that point so when I heated it up I added a little water.)
-Cook pasta in boiling water for 5 minutes. It will be very al dente/not what you would normally consider cooked. Drain.
-Meanwhile, in a frying pan cook ground beef with onion over medium heat until done.
-Add cooked meat and onion mixture to the garlic sauce. Mix in the drained kidney beans and the pasta. Cook until nice and hot

*Pronounced fah-shool, at least in my family. And yes, I had to look up the spelling. It literally means pasta and beans. Thanks for the translation Mom.
**If you look closely at my picture you may notice a few chick peas in there. I only had two cans of kidney beans in the pantry so I had to use one can of Trader Joe's marinated bean salad, which is kidney beans, chick peas, and some other bean that looks like a kidney bean. Not traditional, but no biggie.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Pumpkin Soup w/ Savory Whipped Cream

That, right there, is a big bowl of delicious. As you can probably tell, I've been making a lot of soup lately. This pumpkin soup, however, is hands down the best. I don't think it would quite cut it as a meal on its own, but it is an impressive starter for company or an otherwise boring meal. And it is really easy. (My friend Taylor pointed out that I say everything I make is really easy. But that's because it is!) The nutmeg and ginger bring out the flavor of the pumpkin, and the cream cheese with the sautéed onion and leek round out the soup. The savory whipped cream and roasted pumpkin seeds are a perfect topping and make it look that much prettier, but if you don't have the time/inclination/spare calories feel free to skip this step. The soup will still taste great. I don't know where I'm eating Thanksgiving dinner yet, but this will definitely be making its way to my (or my host's) table.

Before the recipe, a few words to the wise: Make sure you adequately salt the soup. The first time I made it, I used low sodium chicken broth and didn't realize how much salt I had to add to compensate.

And a note about the sugar pumpkin: to get 2 pounds of pumpkin chunks you need a three to four pound pumpkin--which is not that big, about the size of your head. Unless your head is really big. You also need a really good peeler for the pumpkin skin. If your peeler is dinky, you're going to have to use a paring knife. I've done it both ways, but Nic was anticipating a trip to the ER when I used the paring knife. He went out and bought a good peeler soon thereafter.

Pumpkin Soup
Makes 8 servings, as a starter

olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 leek (white only), thinly sliced
2 lbs. (about 6 cups) sugar pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks
6 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups cream cheese
3/4 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg

savory whipped cream topping
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sour cream
pinch of salt
pinch of ginger
pinch of nutmeg
roasted pumpkin seeds

-Heat enough olive oil to sauté onion and leek in a large pot. When the oil is hot, sauté onion and leek for about 5 minutes or until they start to become translucent.
-Add the pumpkin chucks and the chicken broth. Season with a little salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a boil on high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes.
-This is a good time to salt the pumpkin seeds you removed from your pumpkin and put them in the oven on 450 degrees for 5-10 minutes to roast.
-Remove the soup from the heat. (If you want a thick soup, remove a cup of the broth before continuing.*) Stir in cream cheese, ginger and nutmeg. The cream cheese won't completely dissolve, but don't worry, the blender will take care of it.
-Blend the soup in batches until all of it is blended. Stir it all together and taste. Add additional salt, ginger and nutmeg to taste.
-To make the savory whipped cream, first whip the heavy cream with a hand or stand mixer (or a whisk and some upper body strength) until it thickens into the consistency of... well whipped cream, of course. Fold in the sour cream, salt, ginger and nutmeg.
-Top bowls of soup with a dollop of the savory whipped cream and roasted pumpkin seeds.

* I left all 6 cups of broth in when I made my soup. But why not just use 5 cups to begin with if you want thick soup? Because, at least in my pot, it wouldn't cover the pumpkin.