Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Last Word On Fried Chicken

FRIED CHICKEN: An American Story by John T. Edge
John T. Edge weaves a beguiling tapestry of food and culture as he takes us from a Jersey Shore hotel to a Kansas City roadhouse, from the original Buffalo wings to KFC, from Nashville Hot Chicken to haute fried chicken at a genteel Southern inn.
You have to be interested in both food history and reading about fried chicken to like this book. I fit this description and found this little book very enjoyable. Edge has a comfortable, conversational style and provides 15 recipes to go alone with his voyage of discovery. I liked this enough to request the next in this series, "Apple Pie," from the library.

Herbed Thanksgiving Stuffing

Somehow I had registered the idea that I had to do my Thanksgiving shopping this weekend but NOT the fact that meant I had to actually cook the Thanksgiving feast next week. It hadn't "clicked" somehow until Rose was talking about it last night. Thank heavens because that send me plunging into my files to make sure I had this recipe and didn't have to check the book out of the library to get it. Then, naturally, I had to share it with my blogging pals.

I realize it's a big claim to say this is the best stuffing ever. However, you have to realize that I'm always searching for the "best ever" way to make something I like and then I quit looking. I'm always going for taste and then simplicity. I have found my favorite biscuits, pumpkin pie, etc. this way. Not only does this stuffing taste like my ideal but it is made in the slow cooker. That's right, the slow cooker. Any Thanksgiving cooks know that oven space is at a premium for this meal and this solves many problems. You can gauge turkey time on an unstuffed bird, you have more room available for other things in the oven, it will stay warm in the slow cooker for a considerable time waiting for everything else to get done ... well, you get the picture. Without further ado, here is the recipe for Herbed Thanksgiving Stuffing. Enjoy!

From Rick Rodger's The Slow Cooker Ready and Waiting Cookbook.

Step 1:
8 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
3 medium celery ribs, chopped
Saute until softened.

Step 2?
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1-1/2 teaspoons rosemary
1-1/2 teaspoons thyme
1-1/2 teaspoons marjoram
1-1/2 teaspoons sage
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
Remove onion mixture from heat and stir in above ingredients.

Step 3:
12 packed cups 1" cubes of stale Italian or French bread (about 1 pound)
2 cups turkey or chicken stock
Mix in bread cubes and toss with stock to moisten. Pack lightly into buttered slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 1 hour. Reduce heat to low and slow-cook until heated through, 3-4 hours. The cooker will keep the dressing at serving temperature for up to 3 hours. I tend to like a moist stuffing and probably would use a bit more stock than above which makes a drier stuffing ... although it's darn good for sopping up gravy that way!

Sausage Stuffing - Cook 1 pound bulk pork sausage. Drain. Stir into stuffing during the last hour of cooking.

Mushroom Stuffing: Saute 1-1/2 pounds sliced mushrooms in 4 tablespoons butter until mushrooms have given off liquid and are beginning to brown. Stir into stuffing during last hour of cooking.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Soft and Chewy Sugar Cookies

I can't give the Pennsylvania Dutch cookie recipe from last week without giving my favorite recipe for Soft and Chewy Sugar Cookies. After I tasted these it was clear that I need look no further for the best sugar cookies. They are perfectly chewy and delicious. Even when they are made too thin and turn out crisp you can't beat the flavor. The only problem is that this recipe makes plain round cookies. Now I just have to find a recipe for great tasting sugar cookies that are rolled and cut out, the quintessential Christmas cookie. My quest continues...

From Cook's Illustrated

Step 1:
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 375°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk dry ingredients together.

Step 2:
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still firm
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
In standing mixer, beat together butter and sugars at medium speed until light and fluffy, approximately 3 minutes.

Step 3:
1 large egg
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
Add egg and vanilla; beat until combined, about 30 seconds. Add dry ingredients and beat on low until just combined, about 30 seconds.

Step 4:
1/2 cup sugar for rolling dough
Put sugar for rolling in shallow bowl. Have bowl of cold water nearby for dipping hands in between rolling dough. Dip hands in water and shake off excess every time rolling dough (this not only prevents dough from sticking but also ensures that sugar sticks to dough).

Roll heaping tablespoon dough into 1-1/2" ball; roll in sugar, put on baking sheet. Space balls approximately 2" apart (12 cookies/sheet). Flatten balls with hand or fork until about 3/4" thick.

Bake until golden brown around edges, just set, and very lightly colored in center, about 15-18 minutes. Cool on baking sheet approximately 3 minutes; finish cooling on rack.

"You cook? Every night?"

That was the response from my friend, RH, when we were talking about household budgets. She had said that her husband bought breakfast every morning, she bought lunch every day, and they might have three home cooked meals during the week. That's when I said that we might have one or two meals a month that weren't fixed at home and she was stunned.

I didn't know whether I should take that personally but then decided that it probably was because our society just cooks a lot less than ever. This isn't news to most people, especially those with school age kids. However, as I pointed out to RH, it isn't always about preparing a meal. Sometimes it's just about fueling up. RH was much struck by my assertion that a tuna sandwich can do the trick just as handily as a Big Mac, more cheaply and (possibly) more healthily ... and you don't have to go anywhere to get it.

A case in point was last week when, as happens more often than I like to dwell on, it was toward the end of the week and we were out of "dinner-able" food. What I did have on hand was tuna so on to tuna sandwiches (gourmet touch ... a spritz of lemon juice!), chips (ooooh, variety ... your choice of Doritos OR Sunchips), and sliced apples (because nutrition counts too!). From this you can see that I am blessed with a very tolerant husband and children who love tuna. In fact, Hannah's fondest culinary memory of London is the Tuna Mayonnaise at the Princess Pub in St. John's Wood.

I don't call this "cooking." I call it "engineering" because you usually are doing little more than opening cans and assembling (nachos, tuna sandwiches) or sometimes just very simple prep and heating (oven baked chicken nuggets and fries, bratwurst and baked potatoes). I manage to complicate this by having standards that don't allow the use of most types of prepared products (jarred spaghetti sauce, mac and cheese from a box ... even when I use chicken nuggets they're from Kuby's, our great German deli). However, it is possible to an amazing amount of engineering even with these self imposed handicaps.

I do actually cook probably 5 meals every week. I thought everyone knew these little tricks and I suspect most do. However, this idea came as a real revelation to RH and in her book that is called cooking. So yes, I guess, I cook every night.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Pennsylvania Dutch Soft Sugar Cookies

Probably my very favorite cookie is a sugar cookie. It is all too hard to find the perfect one. Pennsylvania Dutch Soft Sugar Cookies were part of Rose's cookie making frenzy this summer and everybody has asked for them again and again. I prefer a less soft and fluffy texture but but I definitely am in the minority because these consistently are a crowd favorite. Try a few of these to add to the joy or reduce the sting of the election results.

This recipe is from Nick Malgieri's Cookies Unlimited. The instructions call for a standing mixer but anyone with basic baking experience can see how easy it would be to adapt to hand mixing.

Makes about 60 cookies

Step 1:
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch salt
Set the racks in the upper and lower third of the oven and preheat to 375°. In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt; stir well to mix.

Step 2:
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
In the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar until combined, then beat in vanilla.

Step 3:
3 large eggs
1 up buttermilk
Add eggs, one at a time, beating smooth after each addition. Lower the speed and beat in a third of the four mixture, then half the buttermilk, and another third of the flour mixture. Scrape bowl and beater often. Beat in remaining buttermilk, then the remaining flour mixture.

Step 4:
3 or 4 cookie sheets or jelly roll pans covered with parchment or foil
Scrape bowl and beater, then remove the bowl from the mixer, and give the dough one final mixing with a large rubber spatula. Drop tablespoons of the dough 3 or 4 inches apart onto the prepared pans.

Bake the cookies for about 15 minutes, or until they spread and rise -- they should be lightly golden.

Slide the papers off the pans onto racks. After cookies have cooled, detach them from the paper and store them between layers of parchment or wax paper in a tin or plastic container with tight fitting cover.