Wednesday, December 28, 2005

And a Happy New Year's Feast

For every action, as I unaccountably remember from high school science class (you see, Mr. Clarke, I was listening), there is an equal and opposite reaction. Which, roundly translated to life right now, means that plunged into expansive, hospitable holiday mood I issue to each and every one of my friends a warm invitation to lunch -- only to sit slumped, head in hands, as I wonder how I'm going to feed them and hold on to my sanity. This season is fraught with contradictions: it's a time when you feel friendly, want to see people, indeed want to sit eating and chatting with them, but what with having the children home from school needing to be entertained at all times and in the aftermath of frenzied, family-wrought Christmas activities, you do not always have the energy for the follow-through.
I have to applaud anyone with even the idea of a New Year's Day lunch in their planning. I do not have to worry about feeding all my friends on New Year's Day because I already know my plans for that day. I cook a New Year's Eve dinner of something luxurious for the family and then we play board games and watch movies until midnight. After which we sleep late and goof off all the next day ... except for making it to Mass which is a holy day of obligation celebrating Mary, the Mother of God.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Little Useless Information

The largest item on any menu in the world is probably the roast camel, sometimes served at Bedouin wedding feasts. The camel is stuffed with a sheep's carcass, which is stuffed with chickens, which are stuffed with fish, which are stuffed with eggs.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Today is Boxing Day

No, don't get the gloves out. If you have read as many old British mysteries as I have then you have come across Boxing Day. If not, then here's the scoop.
The tradition of Boxing Day began in 19th-century England under the reign of Queen Victoria, although the exact origin of its name is unclear. One theory connects it to the tradition of clergy opening the alms boxes on the day after Christmas to distribute money among the poor. Another suggests that the name came from the practice of merchants handing out boxes of food or clothing to their apprentices the day after Christmas as a sort of Victorian-era bonus. In any case, the tradition of charity remains at the heart of the holiday. It's celebrated each year on December 26 -- unless that date falls on a Saturday or Sunday, in which case the holiday takes place on the following Monday.

Many modern Brits associate Boxing Day with yet another tradition -- Christmas leftovers and family gatherings. This custom, too, can be tied to Victorian England,when servants worked on Christmas and headed home to their families the following day with boxes of the upstairs family's leftovers
Cooking Light, Dec. 2005

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Holiday Eating Tips

This was all over the internet last year but I haven't seen it around lately, so without further ado...
Holiday Eating Tips

  1. Avoid carrot sticks. Anyone who puts carrots on a holiday buffet table knows nothing of the Christmas spirit. In fact, if you see carrots, leave immediately. Go next door, where they're serving rum balls.

  2. Drink as much eggnog as you can. And quickly. Like fine single-malt scotch, it's rare. In fact, it's even rarer than single-malt scotch. You can't find it any other time of year but now. So drink up! Who cares that it has 10,000 calories in every sip? It's not as if you're going to turn into an eggnog-aholic or something. It's a treat. Enjoy it. Have one for me. Have two. It's later than you think. It's Christmas!

  3. If something comes with gravy, use it. That's the whole point of gravy. Gravy does not stand alone. Pour it on. Make a volcano out of your mashed potatoes. Fill it with gravy. Eat the volcano. Repeat.

  4. As for mashed potatoes, always ask if they're made with skim milk or whole milk. If it's skim, pass. Why bother? It's like buying a sports car with an automatic transmission.

  5. Do not have a snack before going to a party in an effort to control your eating. The whole point of going to a Christmas party is to eat other people's food for free. Lots of it. Hello?

  6. Under no circumstances should you exercise between now and New Year's. You can do that in January when you have nothing else to do. This is the time for long naps, which you'll need after circling the buffet table while carrying a 10-pound plate of food and that vat of eggnog.

  7. If you come across something really good at a buffet table, like frosted Christmas cookies in the shape and size of Santa, position yourself near them and don't budge. Have as many as you can before becoming the center of attention. They're like a beautiful pair of shoes. If you leave them behind, you're never going to see them again.

  8. Same for pies. Apple. Pumpkin. Mincemeat. Have a slice of each. Or, if you don't like mincemeat, have two apples and one pumpkin. Always have three. When else do you get to have more than one dessert? Labor Day?

  9. Did someone mention fruitcake? Granted, it's loaded with the mandatory celebratory calories, but avoid it at all cost. I mean, have some standards.

  10. One final tip: If you don't feel terrible when you leave the party or get up from the table, you haven't been paying attention. Reread tips; start over, but hurry, January is just around the corner.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Strada a la Noel!

From my dear friend, Marcia. This looks so good! I notice that Marcia and I both make sure to have mimosas on Christmas morning. Do we know how to celebrate or what?

2 3/4 inch slices of baked ham (usually purchased from deli)
6 English muffins
1 can evaporated milk
1 can artichoke hearts drained
8 eggs
grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
1 bunch of chopped green onions....tops too!
minced taste

Butter 9 x 13 baking dish. Slice and quarter in dish.

Cut ham into 1/4 in. little squares and scatter over muffins, also the chopped green onions, chopped artichokes, and minced garlic.

Scramble eggs with milk and pour evenly over entire dish. Salt and pepper. Grind just a little nutmeg, or sprinkle regular ground, and finish with grated parmesan on top.

Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight or for at least a few hours...I usually do this the morning before, then the next morning bake in a 375 oven for 45-60 min. uncover the last few for a little browning. Cut into squares. Enjoy!!!!

We have a few mimosas to accompany this dish...maybe that's why it is so good!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Separating the Sheep From the Goats

I have said all along that this is not a true cooking blog, being more of the back room for my main blog.

If I ever needed proof of that, all I had to do was read this rant excoriating food sections for using stock photography and praising food blogs for doing original photography. Whatever. Because original photography makes the blog credible? To me it's about the writing not the photos. I wouldn't care if food blogs never had photos frankly.

In fact this little bit may have been about this spot.
UPDATE: I now know of one food blog that also uses stock photographs. I won't mention their name or URL here. I will say that it's not one that get's mentioned a lot.
Very polite and nice not to name me, if so. And if this isn't that blog, well, then there are two people who don't care to take home photos of their food when a stock photo represents something just as well.

Here's the deal. It's very freeing having no street cred anyway with the food bloggers. So I use stock photography when I even remember to put up a photo. They're the sheep. I'm a goat. That's ok. They care. I surely don't.

Just another brick in the wall that means this is not a true cooking blog.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Makar Sankrat/Pongal

This January 14 Hindu holiday celebrates the new solar year, considered to be the beginning of the new day for the gods and the end of their six-month night. It is observed quite differently in each region and has a different name depending on where it's celebrated -- Pongal in the south of India and Makar Sankrat in the north. But most festivities include a common theme of ceremonial cleansings, offerings, and celebrations of the harvest, and food plays an important symbolic role.

Pongal, which means "to boil over," refers both to the concept of bounty and to the traditional dish of rice boiled in milk, which is given to the gods as an offering. Sesame seeds, or til, are looked upon as a symbol of health and friendship. Sweets made from sesame and jaggery -- a special kind of sugar -- are exchanged on the holiday along with the saying, "accept these sweets and speak sweet words." The tradition reminds people to resolve past quarrels so that friendship can thrive.
Cooking Light, Dec. 2005

Monday, December 19, 2005

Chocolate Mint-Filled Cookies

I cannot for the life of me remember where this recipe came from. I only know it is simple, a fantastic combination of chocolate and mint, and an easy way to make sandwich cookies. It has occurred to me that if I needed chocolate cookies for making a crumb pie crust and couldn't find those Nabisco cookies that these would be a good substitute.

Rose made these yesterday to add to our Christmas array.

Step 1:

2/3 cup softened butter
1/2 cup sugar

Cream butter and sugar.

Step 2:
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 egg
6 ounces melted semisweet chocolate

Add corn syrup and egg and blend. Add chocolate.

Step 3:
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine flour, soda and salt and add, beating well. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours or put in the freezer for 40 minutes.

Step 4:
1/3 cup sugar

Form dough into 1/2-inch balls (about 96) and roll in sugar. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake an even number at a time, 12-15 minutes at 350.

Step 5:
48 chocolate covered 1-1/4-inch wide thin mint patties (we use York peppermint patties, sometimes whole, sometimes halved, depending on how accurate we are with the cookie size)

Remove half the cookies from the sheet. Put a mint patty on top, top with another, and press together firmly with spatula so the melting patty spreads. Cool on the rack. They become crisp and hard.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Happy Holidays in Iran: Shab-e Yalda

An interesting feature by Cooking Light featured other holidays held around this time of year. I was surprised to see many that I hadn't heard of so am going to share them with y'all here.
In Iran, the winter solstice, which falls on December 21, is hailed with Shab-e Yalda -- the birthday of the sun. It's a celebration of the triumph of light over dark, good over evil. It is thought that on the longest night with evil at its zenith, light needs help to overcome darkness, says Najmieh Batmanglij author of New Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies. Therefore, Shab-e Yalda is traditionally celebrated with the family building a bonfire outside and gathering around a brazier inside until sunrise. They entertain one another with dancing, poetry, and storytelling. Food also plays an integral part.

In Iranian culture, certain nutritional properties of foods are considered hot and others are considered cold (regardless of temperature or level of spice), much like Chinese yin or yang. Balance between the two is important. Summer foods are preserved throughout the year for the Shab-e Yalda feast, where they mingle with the foods of winter "to symbolize the balance of seasons," Batmanglij explains. Saffron and carrots, for example, are warm foods and are served during Shab-e Yalda to overcome the cold of winter.
Cooking Light, Dec. 2005

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Holiday Eating Myths: #3

Myth: Great cooks and festive parties place our willpower at risk.

Reality: Research indicates that it's not the parties that prompt us to eat, but being around friends and family that may lead to diet missteps. In a study conducted at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, researchers found that dining in a group causes the average person to eat 44 percent more calories than they normally would eating alone.

Strategy: Mindful eating is the key to maintaining your equilibrium during social situations ... try taking a smaller serving. Make a conscious effort to balance your plate with plenty of fruits and veggies, and a healthy portion -- about three to four ounces -- of protein .... Also take a second to look at every bite before you eat it. This psychological connection will help you keep a mental checklist of how much you're consuming.
Cooking Light, Dec. 2005

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Holiday Eating Myths: #2

Myth: Eat a lot of turkey and you'll be snoozing shortly.

Reality: Studies have linked L-tryptophan -- an essential amino acid found in cooked turkey -- to a feeling of sleepiness, but it's unlikely that eating turkey during the holidays will have a sedating effect... In order for L-tryptophan to cause sleepiness, research has shown that it needs to be eaten alone, on an empty stomach... The real reason a nap is so appealing after any big meal is the large amount of energy required to digest it...

Strategy: One way to avoid a post-meal energy drain is to approach a big dinner with an appetite that's in check. Avoid eating smaller-than-normal portions for breakfast and lunch, which may leave you feeling ravenous at dinner and prompt you to eat more than normal...
Cooking Light, Dec. 2005
This myth-buster has been all over the news lately. I think they are also forgetting the large amount of energy required to get the meal ready! Naturally, everyone needs a little nap later on.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Holiday Eating Myths: #1

Myth: Most people put on five to seven pounds during the holidays.

Reality: The average weight gain during the sis-week span from Thanksgiving to New Year's is just under one pound, according to a yearlong study of nearly 200 people published in The New England Journal of Medicine ... "The weight increase isn't dramatic -- but the research did reveal something significant -- study participants did not reverse their gains during the following months," says Susan Z. Yanovski, M.D. ... This has led obesity experts to speculate that the small weight gain from year to year, contributing to the more substantial gains many people experience as they age.

Strategy: ... Sneak in a little physical activity every day to burn off additional calories and benefit from the stress-reducing effects of exercise. Also remember, if you want to avoid overindulging with a food you really love, this is not the only time of year you can eat it.
Cooking Light, Dec. 2005

Christmas Ideas

Nothing is easier than giving a magazine subscription and often it is the introduction to new and enjoyable reading, as my husband found when his parents began giving him Invention and Technology.

I would recommend:
As Chow tells you themselves, they put the fun back into food. I have never cooked a recipe from this magazine but it is consistently entertaining and informative.

Fine Cooking's articles are all done by chefs, cookbook authors and the like. However, they still are very practical and useful. I particularly like when they will do a master recipe such as for baked pasta, giving a basic formula and then provide various examples as to how to change it up.

Cook's Illustrated is well known for testing every recipe over and over and over. Undeniably it does get good results. However, Christopher Kimball annoys the heck outta me and I really dislike their habit of putting extra recipes on their website with limited access. Most of the time by the time I get around to remembering to look for that great sounding variation the time limit has expired. However, it is a reliable publication. You can trust their recipes to do what they say.

Cooking Light really does have recipes that taste like good food while being healthier ... except that I always have to add more salt. Their editorial content has been getting better and better also. For example, the December issue had a feature about other cultures with holidays in December and it was fascinating because I hadn't heard of over half of them. They also had an article about the process they go through to get an issue ready, including recommendations for their preferred food publications. Now that's something you don't see every day.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Thought for Food

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.
C.S. Lewis

A Little Useless Information

Beethoven who was a coffee lover, was so particular about his coffee that he always counted 60 beans each cup when he prepared his brew.

Weekend Joke

Early one spring morning, Papa Mole decided to check out the sounds and smells of the new season. He traveled along his burrow until he could stick his head out and survey the area. It was such a beautiful morning, he quickly called to Mama Mole to come join him.

Papa Mole said, "It is such a beautiful spring morning. I hear the birds singing and I smell ... bacon ... yes, someone is frying! It smells so good."

Mama Mole said, "It is indeed a beautiful morning and ... why, yes ... I think I smell someone cooking pancakes. Yes, delicious buckwheat pancakes! Come quick, Baby Mole, you must experience these delectable sounds and smells!"

Baby Mole raced along the burrow but could not squeeze past his parents.

Mama said, "Do you smell those delicious smells of breakfast, Baby Mole? Doesn't it make you hungry and happy that spring is here?"

Baby Mole replied, somewhat disgruntled, his voice a bit muffled as he tried to squeeze past his parents again, "I wouldn't know. All I can smell is molasses!"

Friday, December 09, 2005


I just noticed the hits jumping and found out that my mother's Amaretti recipe was a winner in The Domestic Goddess' and Al Forno's Cookie Swap. Woohoo!

It is so nice of them to have hosted this swap and to give out a prize. That is the great thing about food blogs. They don't just award winners ... they have real, honest-to-goodness prizes! Very exciting!

Thanks to all who voted for it and I hope that you enjoy making those very easy cookies. I tried them yesterday using pecans and vanilla instead of almond extract and they were delicious that way also. So it is a versatile recipe too.

Pecan Butter Balls

Or as they are known at our house, Mexican Wedding Cakes, since my mother first made this cookie from a Mexican cookbook when I was young.

This version, another from our favorite, never-fail cookie book,
Cookies Unlimited by Nick Malgieri, is the best I have ever had.

The only changes I made were to use the mixer for the entire process (Malgieri calls for mixing the flour and nuts in by hand) and to double-roll the cookies in powdered sugar; once when they come out of the oven and once when they are cool. Malgieri calls for rolling them only when they are cool. If you don't have a mixer, of course, all this can be done by hand.

Makes about 50 cookies

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon water (or dark rum, bourbon, or brandy)
2 cups flour
8 ounces (about 2 cups) pecan pieces, finely chopped, but not ground
1 cup confectioners' sugar for finishing

2 cookie sheets or jelly roll covered with parchment or foil

Set a rack in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together on medium speed the butter, granulated sugar, and salt until soft and fairly light, about 3 minutes.

Beat in the vanilla and water and continue beating until smooth.

On low speed, mix in the flour and pecans just until the dough holds together.

Use a small ice cream or melon ball scoop to separate pieces of the dough for the cookies. Roll the dough between the palms of your hands to make a ball and place on the baking pan leaving about an inch around each. They don't spread, but they do puff slightly. Repeat until all the dough has been used.

Another method is to roll pieces of the dough under the palms of your hands to make a cylinder about an inch thick. Cut off 3/4-inch pieces of the dough and roll as above.

Bake the cookies for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are firm and golden. Cool on racks (this is when I roll in powdered sugar the first time and then put them on racks to cool).

After they are cold, sift the confectioners sugar into a shallow bowl and roll the cookies in it.

Store the cooled cookies between sheets of parchment or wax paper in a tin or plastic container with a tight-fitting cover.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Getcha Hot Links Here

Here are the winners from The Dallas Morning News' annual Christmas cookie contest (free registration required). check out the Decadent Cookies, Bar Cookies (where the Heavenly Apricot Cobbler Bars and the Chocolate Topped Rum Bars caught my eye), Family Recipes, Easy Cookies (here the Nutella Nuggets and Choco-licks caught my interest), and Decorated Cookies.

If you're from Dallas, that's all you need to hear to head down to the rebuilt Jimmy's Place where it's better than ever.

Best Wine Book Ever says SlashFood.
Stocking Stuffers recommended by Cook's Illustrated (via SlashFood).
Food Markers are food coloring in a marker for those decorating moments that require a fine touch.

What the heck is breadfruit anyway? I remember reading all about it in the Nordhoff and Hall books about the mutiny on the HMS Bounty but never knew anything about it. Melissa De Leon has the scoop.

Chicken With Fresh Mushrooms

From my favorite Key to Chinese Cooking by Irene Kuo, this is a light stir-fry that goes well over rice. I had thought of making Moo Goo Gai Pan since I had chicken breasts and mushrooms to hand but it turned out that I didn't have enough other ingredients to make me page through the book for options. I'm glad I did. This simple dish was delicious. I made the variation with broccoli stems.

I didn't have time to let the chicken sit for the requisite half hour for velveting but knew that the recipe would need the chicken to be mostly cooked. I simply brought a few cups of water to a boil and dropped the chicken slices in. They turned white almost immediately and I emptied the pot into a strainer. Although not as soft as the velveted chicken would have been, they were just fine.

1 pound sliced chicken breast, velveted
1/2 cup sliced bamboo shoots
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms
4 tablespoons oil
2 quarter-sized slices peeled ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons chicken stock or water
2 teaspoons sesame oil

Velvet the sliced chicken breast. Rinse and drain the sliced bamboo shoots. Wipe the mushrooms with a damp paper towel (I wash them with a soft brush under running water); dry and slice them.

Heat a work or large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot; add 2 tablespoons of the oil, swirl, and heat for 30 seconds. Scatter in the bamboo shoots and stir rapidly for about 1 minute to evaporate their moisture and eliminate the canned odor -- lower the heat if necessary to prevent scorching. Remove to a plate.

Dry the pan, add the 2 remaining tablespoons oil, swirl, and heat over dry heat until hot. Toss in the ginger slices and press them against the pan. Add the mushrooms and stir and flip them rapidly for about 30 seconds, until their color brightens. Add the bamboo shoots and the salt and stir briskly with the mushrooms for 1 minute. Then add the chicken and stir to mingle well; add the soy sauce and stir briskly to season evenly. Pour in the cornstarch mixture and stir until the contents are smoothly coated. Add the sesame oil, flip the contents a few times, and pour into a hot serving dish.

Instead of fresh mushrooms, well-drained canned button or straw mushrooms may be substituted. And instead of bamboo shoots you could use fresh snow peas or peeled broccoli stems to give some green color to the dish.

If you use snow peas, string and rinse them briefly. Dip them in boiling water for 10 seconds and drain. Use 3 tablespoons oil to stir-fry the mushrooms; then add the snow peas.

If you use broccoli stems, peel and cut them on the slant into thin slices. Add them when the bamboo shoots would have been added.

Master Recipe for Velveting Chicken

This is from my favorite Chinese cookbook, the Key to Chinese Cooking by Irene Kuo (my review). Velveting ensures not only tenderness but also imparts a velvety texture to meat, chicken and seafood. Kuo is the only person I have seen consistently mention that you can velvet in water as well as oil. I usually velvet in water. If you have time to do it,velveting makes an amazing difference in texture.

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into the size and shape needed for your recipe

Velvet coating:

1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 large egg white
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon oil

2 cups oil

Put the cut meat into a bowl, add the salt and sherry, and stir. Beat the egg white only until the gel is completely broken -- it should not be frothy, lest the coating to puff and disintegrate upon cooking. Add this to the chicken, sprinkle in the cornstarch, and mix well. Add the tablespoon of oil and stir until smooth. Let the chicken sit in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes so that the coating has time to adhere to the meat.

Velveting in Oil
Just before velveting the chicken, assemble everything you need: a wok or deep skillet on the stove, a strainer set over a small pot, and a pair of chopsticks, wooden spoon, or spatula. Do not use sharp implements such as a fork for turning the meat in the oil.

Heat a wok or deep skillet over high heat until very hot; then turned to medium, add 2 cups oil, and heat for about 40 seconds until it is very warm, about 275 degrees, or until it foams a cube of bread or piece of scallion very slowly. Give the coated chicken a big stir and scatter in the pieces; quickly but gently stir them to separate them. The oil should cover every piece. Lower the heat immediately if the chicken begins to sizzle; hot oil will make velveted chicken yellow and hard.

When the meat turns white, which takes about 30 to 45 seconds only, immediately pour both oil and chicken into the strainer, reserving the oil. The chicken is now velveted, ready to be stir-fried. When the oil is cool, strain and rebottle it.

Velveting can be done well before the stir-frying. If you are going to use the chicken in an hour or so, do it in oil as above; do not refrigerate the chicken, however, or it will harden. If you do want to refrigerate or freeze velveted chicken, you must use water instead of oil.

Velveting in Water
Bring 1 quart water to a boil, add 1 tablespoon oil to "grease the liquid," and then lower the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer. Scatter in the chicken, stir to separate, and keep stirring gently until the coating turns white. Then immediately pour into the strainer to drain.

As the name "velveting" implies, the coating is white and fluffy and the meat is as soft as velvet. While the oil method gives the meat a firmer texture, the water method produces a softer coating. In either case, the meat is on the verge of being fully cooked, which is the ideal for the process of stir-frying.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Chocolate Chunk Biscotti

From our favorite, never-fail cookie book, Cookies Unlimited by Nick Malgieri. I made these delicious, chocolate packed cookies yesterday to freeze for Christmas.

These are a snap except for one bit ... when you are mixing the egg mixture with the flour mixture about halfway through you begin to think that you will never be able to do it. There really is very little liquid to mix in, but if you keep working at it all the ingredients gradually become incorporated.

Also, I know the different chocolates are "added for a subtle richness" but ... since I am lazy and don't care about those subtleties ... I use a 12-ounce bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips. And they are still quite delicious.

Makes about 60 biscotti
(I have never gotten more than 40)

1-3/4 cups flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted after measuring
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch salt
1-1/4 sugar
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
6 ounces milk chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cookie sheets or jelly roll covered with parchment or foil

Set a rack at the middle level of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees.

In a bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt; stir well to mix. Stir in the sugar and chocolates.

In another bowl, whisk together the eggs and vanilla and using a large rubber spatula stir the eggs into the flour mixture to form a dough.

On a lightly floured surface, press the dough together -- it will be sticky. Flour your hands and the surface lightly, but do not add any more flour to the dough. Divide the dough in half and roll each half into a log the length of your pan (14 to 18 inches). Place the logs on a pan, making sure they are not too close to each other or to the sides of the pan. Press down gently with the palm of your hand to flatten the logs. (Use a dry brush to remove excess flour if necessary.) Bake for about 30 minutes until they are well risen and have also spread to about double in size. The logs are done when, pressed with a fingertip, they feel firm. Cool the logs on the pan.

Reset the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Using a sharp serrated knife, slice the baked logs diagonally about every 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Return the biscotti to the pans, cut side down, and bake up to 20 minutes longer, or until the biscotti are dry and crisp.

Cool on a rack.

Store the cooled biscotti between sheets of parchment or wax paper in a tin or plastic container with a tight fitting cover.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Cookie Swaps and Secret Cookbook Santas

Find these in today's Blogging Around over at my other place.

Weekend Joke

Did you hear that in New York the Stop and Shop grocery chain merged with the A&P?

Now it's called the Stop & P.

Thought for Food

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.
M. F. K. Fisher

Friday, December 02, 2005

Cranberry Nut Bread

We had this every Christmas when I was growing up. Somehow it is a bit different (and, of course, I would say better) than the usual cranberry bread one finds. I haven't made it for years because of the general lack of interest in cranberries around my household ... but I may try it this year and just freeze slices for myself.

Step 1:
2 cups flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon soda
1 cup sugar
¼ cup shortening

Sift all together. Cut in shortening.

Step 2:
1 egg, beaten
¾ cup orange juice
2 cups cranberries
¹⁄₃ cup chopped nuts

Add eggs and juice, stirring only until mixed. Add nuts and cranberries.

Bake at 350° for 1¼ hours. Cool well before removing from pan. Let stand overnight before slicing. Very crumbly. Be careful slicing.

Classic Christmas Candy

You can't go wrong with Hammonds Candies. Begun in Denver in 1920 they've been making candy the old fashoned way ever since. I usually have an order of candy canes in the very least coming from them at Christmas. It really is some of the best candy ever and worth the price.

Thought for Food

Is there no Latin word for Tea? Upon my soul, if I had known that I would have let the vulgar stuff alone.
Hilaire Belloc

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Is Nothing Sacred Any More?

I guess we all know the answer to that. But I am so naive that I was shocked when I saw this at a site that specializes in Chocolate Deities. Via Slashfood.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Hot Links Comin' Up

For those few who may come here without stopping by my other place first, there are a buncha foodie links that're good readin' under "Blogging Around: Foodie Stuff." Go take a look.

Christmas Pudding

Historically, the Christmas pudding was seen as a religious affront. In 1664, Oliver Cromwell banned it as a "lewd custom," considering the rich pudding "unfit for God-fearing people," and the Quakers rather gloriously condemned it as "the invention of the scarlet whore of Babylon." I have to say I think the Quakers make Christmas pudding sound rather more exciting than it is but, wanting to rise to the occasion, I have tried to come up with a pudding that the scarlet whore of Babylon would be truly proud of.
Just what was everybody doing with those puddings that made Cromwell call them a "lewd custom?" I know he just meant having any fun was out of bounds for "God-fearing people" (perhaps he was the prototype for Dickens' Scrooge) but that phrase boggles the imagination.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Sal's Christmas Fruit Gems

Sal made these over Thanksgiving weekend and tucked them in the freezer.

She says, "It's my own recipe- basically my mom's applesauce cake recipe with extra fruit and nuts. (And that was originally an Imperial Sugar recipe, so you know it's good.) I make it every year, though I'm the only one who really likes it. "

Ah, I know that feeling, as I am the lone fruitcake lover at our house. This looks tailor made for me and I have a feeling I'm going to be perusing the dried fruit options at Central Market.

1/2 C. butter
1 C. sugar
1 egg
2 C. flour
1/4 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. cloves
dash nutmeg
1 C. applesauce
1 C. raisins
1 C. golden raisins
1 C. Sunkist Fruit Bits, or other dried fruit, diced fine
1 C. chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts or almonds)

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat well.

Sift dry ingredients together and add to butter and egg mixture alternately with applesauce. Fold in fruits and nuts.

Grease gem pans or use paper muffin cups. Fill cups level with top of pan. Bake at 300 for 25 minutes. Do not overbake. Remove from gem tins and cool on rack.

These may be frosted with a simple glaze or royal icing, if desired. Store in airtight container.

Yield: about 3 dozen.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Those Pesky Turkey Leftovers

I never saw so many diverse ways to use leftovers as they are posting over at Slashfood. Take a look.

Butterbells for the Holidays

Remember my favorite butterbell? Honestly, I'm not sure I could do without it. Now Butterbell has come up with a holiday collection and a special offer of buying two butterbells and getting a third free. Check it out!

Sunday, November 27, 2005


I kicked off our Christmas cookie season by whipping up a batch of Amaretti. Absurdly simple, these are some of my favorites ... basically meringue cookies with ground almonds mixed in. They were made much easier by the fact that I found Almond Meal at the Central Market so I didn't have to grind the almonds in the food processor. I also saw Pecan Meal and Hazelnut Meal there and am now wondering how those would work in variations.

I'm not usually fond of meringues but love these so they had to go into the freezer ASAP otherwise we wouldn't have had many left.

This recipe came from my mother and I'm not sure what cookbook it came from. However, it is not too different from other such recipes I've seen ... except it is a great deal simpler than some.

Step 1:
2 large egg whites
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Beat egg whites until foamy, gradually beat in sugar and almond extract. Continue beating for several minutes until whites form very stiff, shiny peaks.

Step 2:
2 cups (8 ounces) finely ground, blanched almonds
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Stir in almonds and cornstarch until well combined.

Drop generous tablespoon of batter into small mounds about 2" apart on parchment-lined, baking sheets. Bake at 350° for 17-22 minutes until firm and lightly browned. Cool on wire racks. Makes 30 cookies.

Chewy Variation:
Beat egg whites with a fork until broken up and slightly frothy. Stir in sugar until combined; then mix in remaining ingredients (and 1/4-1/2 teaspoon optional cardamom if desired) to make very stiff paste.

With moistened hands, form scant tablespoons of paste into 11/4" balls. Arrange 2" apart on baking sheets. Use moistened fingertips to flatten each ball slightly. Bake at 325° for 15-20 minutes or until firm and very lightly browned. Cool on wire racks. These are like traditional macaroons.

Flavor Variation Update:
I tried these yesterday with finely ground pecans and vanilla instead of the almond extract. Mmmm, mmmm good!

Friday, November 25, 2005

"Leftover" Meals

My family's tradition was always to have a big chef salad the day after Thanksgiving with the "must have" ingredients being turkey, bacon, and blue cheese dressing. (Well, of course, lettuce also ... but that is a given with chef salad.) I just posted a Creamy Roquefort Dressing that you can try or you can do as my parents often did ... use a vinaigrette with generous crumbles of blue cheese everywhere. Mmmm, my mouth is watering.

I was really bummed to realize that the day after Thanksgiving is Friday! Obviously, we began our meatless Friday devotions after Thanksgiving last year so ... with many a sigh ... we are having our traditional chef salad on Saturday.

I see that Sigmund, Carl, and Alfred are experts with the leftovers also. The guys have recipes up for Turkey and Mashed Potato Frittata, Turkey Hash with Egg, and Turkey Apple Scramble. Check it out.

Creamy Roquefort Dressing

From the The New Doubleday Cookbook which is not really new having last been updated in 1985 to the best of my knowledge. However, that is of little account as it remains my "go to" book for the basics.

Yields 2-1/2 cups.

1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon prepared mild yellow mustard
1/2 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon grated onion
1/2 pound Roquefort cheese (I use Maytag Blue ... I know, I know, it isn't a true Roquefort, so sue me)
3-4 tablespoons cider vinegar

Blend mayonnaise with sugar, mustard, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, and onion. Crumble in Roquefort and stir well. Mix in 3-4 tablespoons vinegar, depending upon how thick a dressing you want.

Post-Game Show

That cranberry relish is one of the best things I've ever eaten. Rose and I (the only sweet potato eaters in the house) gave the Cook's Illustrated Sweet Potato Casserole two thumbs way up.

Note to self: when making a pie with a runny filling to be baked ... do NOT prick the pie shell for prebaking. The Pecan Pie filling seeped through the holes and formed a cement-like bond with the bottom crust. Luckily no one cared and the fantastic flavor was still there so all was not lost. So sorry if I led anyone else astray with that. I think that method of prebaking would be fine for Chocolate Pies or something where the precooked filling is put in the crust to chill.

(or shall we say, the not quite so perfect?)
I tried a Celery and Parmesan Salad. It had slices of celery, minced red onion and parsley, and was dressed with a lemon juice vinaigrette. Then topped with shavings of parmesan. It was pretty good but the vinaigrette was WAY too lemony and strong. I am going to try it again after adjusting the dressing (perhaps a Dijon vinaigrette?).

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Vegetarians and Thanksgiving

As for vegetarians, you will see that I have made no special suggestions for what to feed them [at Thanksgiving]. And there is no point in pretending that, with my tastes, they are anything other than "them." This is not because I have anything against vegetarianism or, indeed, vegetarians. I feel about it and them rather as I do about exercise: it's all fine so long as it's someone else doing it. But, the thing is, I don't see a vegetarian option as being necessary here. It seems to me that it's hard to beat a meal of roast potatoes, roast parsnips, lemony beans, buttery Brussels sprouts with chestnuts, cranberry and cornbread stuffing and cranberry and bread sauces. What on earth would you want to add?
As is obvious from the side dishes mentioned above, Nigella is British and really doesn't understand that Thanksgiving requires mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and cranberries kept away from the stuffing. But aside from that, she's spot on.

Kitchen Updates

Breaking news from the Julie D. kitchen:

Prebaked pie shell
I recently read (can't remember where) an older woman talking about making pies and saying that all they ever did was prick the crust with a fork well all over and bake it at about 450 for 10-15 minutes. No lining with parchment paper, no filling with dried beans or rice. So I tried it. And she was right. It worked great. And it was so easy!

Cranberry Ginger Relish
Oh. my. gosh. y'all! Just ground this up in the food processor and even without time to rest it was so delicious! Even the girls liked their infinitesimal tastes and this year I will have someone to eat cranberry relish with me. Ahhhh. Now I just have to find that sweet potato recipe that will help anyone else in the family to eat them ... and it'll be Thanksgiving from heaven time.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Blogging For Food

If you are one of the very few who don't come here from Happy Catholic, I have some interesting foodie links up right here. Enjoy!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Culinary Confessions

This is something that swept through the cooking blog world recently and, although I call this a cooking blog, it actually is the kitchen for Happy Catholic. Which leaves me feeling rather disconnected from the cooking blog world, largely an observer with little interaction. And that's ok. Heaven only knows I get plenty of interaction in the Christian/Catholic blogging world.

However, this is where my true "foodie" impulses show themselves, in the items that are included on my list of Culinary Confessions. Reading through others' lists I felt the strongest connection with David Lebovitz and Cooking with the Headhunter. These lists really tell you the attitude that everyone takes toward cooking and their kitchens. I am putting my confessions here and you will find links to other confessions at the bottom should you be interested in the deep, dark secrets of the cooking blog world.
  1. I wash mushrooms in running water.
  2. I use pre-ground pepper in recipes.
  3. I use pre-ground coffee.
  4. I like Velveeta ...
  5. and American cheese ...
  6. and Spam (the edible kind, though I know that is a topic for debate!) ...
  7. and Cool Whip ...
  8. and instant mashed potatoes.
  9. I hate meringue on pies.
  10. I am fascinated by recipes that use mixes or soup, though I often don't like the results. (But I keep trying them)
  11. I don't sift. Anything.
  12. I buy cauliflower for the sole purpose of letting it take up space, turn brown, and then be thrown away (or so an impartial observer would think).
  13. I hate it when guests show up with food to a dinner party (unless that has been pre-arranged somehow).
  14. I hate cooking in someone's kitchen when the knives are dull and there isn't one decent saucepan (and you'd be surprised at how many of those there are ... when going to my mother-in-law's I take my own knives with me).
  15. I love the idea of organic food but rarely pony up the cash for it (except for milk and chicken ... don't ask me why I do it for those and not anything else).
  16. I judge people by what I see in their shopping carts (which means I have to hide my Velveeta and American cheese and Spam and Cool Whip under larger items in my cart).
  17. My food must be hot (and it is surprising just how many people in my own family do not understand what that means).
  18. I like being tipsy but not drunk (a very fine line, I realize, but one that makes all the difference).
  19. Often I'll chop by hand to avoid having to wash the Cuisinart later.
Other Kitchen Confessionals
Cooking with Amy
Savory Notebook


Comfort Food

Soul Fusion Kitchen

Thanksgiving Outside the U.S., Part III


Mandy Dowd, a poet and artist living in the south of France, once had the challenging task of explaining pumpkin pie to a guest who was highly skeptical of what he called une tarte Americaine. She did not help her cause by pronouncing molasses as malaise, the French word for, well, malaise. He declared the pie "special" and left it half uneaten.

In Bangladesh, Debbie Ingram, a development worker, and her partner managed to get a turkey from the U.s. embassy's commissary. When it was cooked, they paraded their proud dinner around on a platter. "Our guests could hardly believe there was a bird on earth that big," says Ingram, "as animals and vegetables in Bangladesh tend to be quite small."
James Ledbetter for Chow magazine, Holiday 2004 issue

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Are We Ready for Thanksgiving?

Just in case the answer is no, here is a little info for anyone who cares to check it out ... in time to pick up ingredients this weekend.

Holiday Central
O Chef has this up and running. I think they must answer just about every question you could think of there ... including any that my "short-hand" recipes may leave you with!

Herbed Thanksgiving Stuffing
This is the best stuffing ever and cooks in a slow cooker. I have made this four times now and never been disappointed. It really frees up the oven for other things and, if you happen to have a problem with sticking your hand up a turkey (no problemo here) then you're set free from that as well.

Skillet Cornbread
If you happen to like cornbread stuffing (which I do not), you may want to make this for your base. I've never found a better recipe.

Cranberry Ginger Relish
The recipe I'm trying out this year.

Perfect Piecrust
This is not a misnomer. Very easy and very delicious. It is long but that is to give detailed directions. You can't go wrong with this.

Pecan Pie
This is non-negotiable. Gotta have it.

Pumpkin Pie

Are you allowed to have Thanksgiving without this? Nope.

Cranberry-Ginger Relish

From Sunset magazine. I am the only cranberry lover in the house and I wind up trying a new relish or sauce recipe every year. It's my Thanksgiving funny bone you might say.

This was a contest runner up. Can't wait to try it.

Fresh Cranberry-Ginger Relish

From Sunset

Notes: You can make this relish up to 3 days ahead; cover and chill.

1 bag (12 oz.; 3 1/2 cups) fresh cranberries
1 lemon (5 oz.), rinsed
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup crystallized ginger, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1. Rinse and drain cranberries. Remove and discard any bruised or soft ones. Gently pat berries dry.

2. With a vegetable peeler, pare all the yellow peel (not the white pith) from lemon in thin strips; coarsely chop. Save lemon for other uses.

3. In a food processor, whirl cranberries, lemon peel, sugar, crystallized ginger, and ground ginger just until finely chopped. Cover and chill at least 4 hours.

Yield: Makes about 3 cups; 12 servings (serving size: 1/4 cup)

Perfect Pecan Pie

Another one from
Cook's Illustrated. Here my tweaking substitutes Lyle's Golden Syrup (thanks to a tip from John Thorne) if you have it around. If you don't it is no problem but somehow it adds a certain depth ... at least that's what Hannah and I think (being the pecan pie afficianados that we are).

This might be another one that takes longer than the recipe says to bake ... when you make them once a year you forget.

Step 1:
6 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Heat oven to 325°. Mix butter, sugar and salt with wooden spoon until butter is absorbed.

Step 2:
3 large eggs
3/4 cup light corn syrup or Lyle’s Golden Syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups pecans, toasted and chopped
Beat in eggs, then corn syrup and vanilla. Stir in pecans.

Step 3:
One 9” baked pie shell, brushed with beaten egg white and let sit in fridge until dry (approximately 30 minutes) before it was baked (this helps keep it crisp later ... skip the egg white if you don't care about that)
Pour mixture into pie shell; bake until center feels set yet soft, like gelatin, when gently pressed, 40-45 minutes. Cool completely on rack, at least 4 hours. Serve at room temperature or warm.

Perfect Pumpkin Pie

Originally from Cook's Illustrated, I tweaked this by eliminating the step where they had you heat the canned pumpkin in a saucepan for a while to get rid of that "canned taste." Never could tell the difference so why do it?

It seems to me that this pie always takes longer to bake than the directions say (but I don't have my notes here at the moment) so if it does just keep on going until it matches the description they give.

Step 1:
2 cups (16 ounces) pumpkin puree
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup milk
4 large eggs
Mix all filling ingredients and pour into pie shell. (Ladle any excess filling into pie after it has baked for 5 minutes or so — filling will have settled.)

Step 2:
Unbaked 9” pie shell, brushed with beaten egg white and let sit in fridge until dry (approximately 30 minutes ... this helps keep it crisp later ... skip the egg white if you don't care about that)
Bake at 400° until filling is puffed, dry-looking, and lightly cracked around edges and center wiggles like gelatin when pie is gently shaken, about 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for at least 1 hour.

Thanksgiving Outside the U.S., Part II

Pumpkin Pie

Part of the challenge for Americans living abroad is explaining to your new neighbors the historical significance of thanksgiving and why, exactly, we commemorate this secular holiday by gorging ourselves and watching football. My first year in London, a British colleague asked me if Americans sat around on Thanksgiving making fun of the British for having lost that particular patch of empire. I didn't have the heart to tell her that, outside of Austin powers movies, Americans spend very little time thinking about the British, period.
James Ledbetter for Chow magazine, Holiday 2004 issue

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Top 10 Things that Sound Dirty at Thanksgiving But Aren't

Shamelessly stolen from Jules.

10. "Talk about a huge breast!"

9. "It's a little dry, do you still want to eat it?"

8. "Don't play with your meat."

7. "Just spread the legs open & stuff it in."

6. "I didn't expect everyone to come at once!"

5. "You still have a little bit on your chin."

4. "How long will it take after you stick it in?"

3. "You'll know it's ready when it pops up."

2. "That's the biggest one I've ever seen!"

1. "How long do I beat it before it's ready?"

Blog Name Change

Glad Gastronome was a clever name and we all had fun coming up with it (thanks again Penni and Rose!) but over time it just wasn't me. This blog really is where I just step out from Happy Catholic to mess around in the kitchen a bit every so often ... so we'll see how this name does.

Parenting and Pancakes

Whenever I'm trying to be Nice Mummy, rather than normal Bad-tempered Impatient Mummy, I make pancakes. Unfortunately, it can often be counter-productive, but the sad truth about parenting is that it's virtually impossible to learn from your mistakes. The whole business is a Dantesque punishment: you're trapped in the cycle, knowing what you're doing, but seemingly unable to stop.
Really, we're so much alike that we might as well be twins (except for the cooking show, British citizenship, and a few other little details like those). That Bad Mummy description would sound awfully familiar to my kids. Although I have not found the cycle to be so unbreakable as all that.

For a fantastically easy pancakes recipe as well as numerous variations, go here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Wine Tumblers? What's Up With That?

Riedel makes wonderful wine glasses. I have a set and just love them. But wine tumblers? I though the whole point of wine glasses was to hold the glass by the stem so you wouldn't heat up the wine with your hot little hands all over the glass. They must be the latest thing though since a version by a different manufacturer is being given away by Central Market as their holiday coupon item.

You can see all the different versions of Riedel's wine tumblersat Amazon.

Monday, November 14, 2005

This is a Terror I Share

...I think it tends to be the case that vegetarian food takes more time, more effort than most meat heavy feasts. It's even more a labor of love if what you want to do is make someone who doesn't eat meat feel comfortable at the table. This is always a difficult area for me. I wouldn't want to be rude, and the idea of inviting someone who doesn't eat meat for dinner and then having the table heaving with flesh, except for some specially wrought, individual portion of some veggie-pleaser, however delightful, does make me uncomfortable. I do understand that squeamishness, moral and visceral, of those who abhor eating meat would be hard to overcome.

Indeed, I live in terror of being infected with it. There is a Graham Greene play, The Potting Shed, which tells the angst-ridden story of the impact on a devoutly atheistic family when one of their number has a religious vision, smartly followed by a stunned conversion, in the potting shed of the title. The fear and tension of the family whose scornful disbelief is so suddenly shot to pieces resound particularly with me, for I have a concomitant fear. One day something terrible, so ideologically unforeseen, could happen to me: one day I could wake up and find myself vegetarian.
And then to have to eat veggie burgers at summer barbecues? That is indeed a terrible vision.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


A few things of interest from the Dallas Morning News food section.

A simple sauce for broccoli
What a no-brainer and I can't believe I never thought of doing it before. But I will be very soon in the future ... as soon as I buy some broccoli!

All about dark chocolate
Mmmmmm ... dark chocolate. The very best kind of chocolate.

Coming soon to a store near you
Dark Cherry Vanilla Coke is coming in January. Coca Cola dropped plain Vanilla Coke and also Diet Lemon Coke.

Dump cake recipes
This is the sort of cooking that makes my parents blanch but makes me secretly curious. I have a perverse attraction for recipes that dump things or combine mixes, etc.

Thanksgiving Outside the U.S., Part 1


Vicki Lopow and Kate Menken wanted a kosher Thanksgiving in Kenya. They procured a wild turkey from the wildlife region aound Lake Naivasha, and then had it shechted (killed in a kosher way) by a kosher expert visiting the Israeli embassy. They knew stuffing would be a challenge in a country that has no native bread (the closest substitute is ugali, a kind of porridge), but Menken found a baguette in a store catering to expats. The biggest stretch was the "cranberry sauce" made out of local tree tomatoes, a variant of the potato family that produces a red oval-shaped, sharp-tasting fruit -- "kind of tart like cranberries are, so I made preserves out of them," says Menken (who now lives in Manhattan, well within Ocean Spray territory). "It tasted good but was definitely not cranberry sauce." The real score came through a connection at the U.S. embassy; Lopow managed to secure Pepperidge Farm herb-flavor seasoning through the diplomatic pouch.
James Ledbetter for Chow magazine, Holiday 2004 issue
I'm getting in the spirit early so thought I'd take y'all along for the ride!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Hot Links Comin' Up

The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would prevent people from blaming food companies and restaurants for their weight problems.
Read the whole story. It's about time people started taking responsibility for their own actions. What a crying shame that the culture of blaming others has gone so far we have to have legislation for it. Via Minivan Mom.

Accidental Hedonist decides to compare the prices at Whole Foods, Krogers and Safeway using her own list and money. See what she found.

Recipe for chili using a blowtorch.

Grilled cheese sandwich made with a steam iron.

Prison wine made in a toilet.
Find out how to do this and much, much more at Miss Cellania.

Robert Duncan gives us Dr. Joseph Mercola's list of the five worst foods you can eat. What are they? There aren't really any surprises but Homer Simpson really isn't going to like what got ranked number one on the list. Get the whole scoop over at his place.

Get it right here.

Thanksgiving: the Meta-Feast

At their heart, Christmas and Thanksgiving share some central purpose: to bring the family together round food, to celebrate being together. In both feasts,the majestic, and much-maligned, turkey rules the roost. But Thanksgiving is different in one crucial, and for me exciting, respect. There is something magnificent in the idea of what the great French structuralists might have dubbed a meta-feast: that's to say, fancy epithets aside, an occasion when the very purpose of the feast is to celebrate the feasting. Thanksgiving really is about the food itself. Most crucially, it is about American food, a glorification of the luck of living in a world of plenty.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

H is for Hedgehog

A small insectivorous animal, Erinaceus europaeus, found throughout W. and C. Europe. It is best known for a defense mechanism which consists of rolling up and exposing a spiny back to the world, a method which fails against the threat of road traffic. It is nocturnal in habit, and hibernates from October to April.

There are related species in other parts of Europe, and in Asia; but the porcupine, although similarly protected by spines, is an animal of a different genus.

Hedgehogs are not normally sold or hunted for food, except by gypsies, whose traditional method for dealing with them is to encase the animals in clay and roast them, after which the baked clay is broken off, taking the spines with it. The meat is said to be tender and well flavoured, resembling chicken or sucking pig...

The 'hedgehog pudding' which formerly enjoyed some popularity in England, notably in the 18th century but also in the 19th, was so called because of the slivered almonds which were stuck into its upper surface, where they resembled spines.
How did I already know it would taste like chicken?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

At the End of the Day

A day is just a day. Of course, there are things that have not gotten done and, of course, there are the inevitable disappointments that all humans face. But to live with joie de vivre arms you to better face those things. I know that this is true and I know that a happy life is the one big thing that everyone wants. So look for ways to find that and remember that another day dawns tomorrow. A demain.
The perfect perspective on the day.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Food Encompasses Everything

As cooking becomes less and less an everyday activity, there are those who tend to idealize it, and the cook is vaunted as the nurturer, the provider of good things and the person who gives an essential embrace. All that's true, but the shortcomings of the food-as-love brigade are to that too much emphasis is put on food, but not enough. Food isn't just love, food encompasses everything: it may be only a part of life but in an important way it underpins the whole of it. Basic to the whole ting of being human is that we use food to mark occasions that are important to us in life. Feast is not just about the way we cook and eat at the great religious festivals or big-deal special occasions, but about how food is the vital way we celebrate anything that matters -- a birthday, a new job, a anniversary; it's how we mark the connections between us, how we celebrate life.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Salsa Dip

I can't remember where I got this. It may have been from the newspaper. Regardless it is so simple and evryone always loves it.

8 ounces cream cheese
Salsa, as much as you want
8 ounces shredded Monterey Jack (or another good melting cheese that will stay soft - NOT mozzarella)

Spread cream cheese over bottom of a ceramic or glass baking or pie dish. Spread salsa over, then top with shredded cheese.

Bake at 350° for 15-20 minutes, till heated through and bubbly. Serve with tortilla chips.

How to Spend $90 for Spices

You go to Penzey's, home of the freshest, best spices anywhere, and order:
  • Chili Ancho Ground - 8oz bag (a nice change from chili powder sometimes)
  • Chili Powder Regular - 16oz Bag (I can't run the kitchen without lots of good chili powder)
  • Cinnamon Vietnamese Ground - 4oz bag (Christmas baking is coming up!)
  • Cumin Ground - 8oz bag (I can't run the kitchen without lots of cumin either)
  • Ginger Crystalized - 16oz bag (I cook with this occasionally but Hannah eats it for snacks ALL the time)
  • Shrimp/Crab Boil - 4oz bag (Cold, boiled shrimp is Tom's favorite so we have it a lot)
  • Vanilla Single Strength 16oz bottle (year round baking and ... Christmas is coming)
  • Cocoa Natural 16oz bag (qty. 3) (the best cocoa I've ever found ... accept no substitutes!)

Monday, October 17, 2005

Paddington Nooner

When Hannah's friends all came over after Homecoming last week for a scavenger hunt and late night movies, this is the cake that I had ready to give them that extra blast of energy.

I got it from the newspaper many years ago and I remember that it originally won second place in a chocolate recipe contest. As for the name, I know there is a character called Paddington Bear but never read the books.

What I do know is that this is hands-down the easiest, most chocolatey, not-too-sweet chocolate cake I have ever made. It always turns out perfectly and is a favorite with everyone.

Step 1:
Cocoa powder
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 12-cup tube or bundt pan and dust sides/bottom with cocoa.

Step 2:
1-1/4 cups strong black coffee
1/4 cup dark creme de cacao or other liqueur (I have used Grand Marnier, creme de menthe, and cherry liqueur ... basically any flavor that goes with chocolate will work here)
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 cup butter, softened
Heat the coffee and creme de cacao over low heat; add the chocolate and butter. Cook, stirring constantly, until smooth.

Step 3:
2 cups sugar
Remove from heat; stir in sugar. Let stand 5 minutes.

Step 4:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Sift together. Add chocolate mixture to flour in small parts.

Step 5:
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
Add eggs and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Pour into prepared pan. Bake approximately 1 hour or until cake tests done. Cool completely on rack before unmolding. Best if served cold.

UPDATE: Photo now included, per ukok's request. Much thanks to Veronica on the Verge who provided food photography (along with rave reviews ... she used peppermint schnapps as a flavoring liqueur).

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Nap

When I told you about the normal working-day lunch in France, I mentioned that it is customary after le dejeuner to take a few moments alone to read, relax on a bench, or to have a quick snooze under a tree. A nap is simply an extension of this idea and is customary after a big meal like a Sunday lunch.

A nap is not actually about sleeping, it is more about resting. It requires privacy. This is my ideal nap situation: When I have cooked and enjoyed a big lunch for my family, I really look forward to a small break. I have a daybed tucked into a cool, dark corner of the family room in our house in France. I take off my shoes, unbutton my collar, loosen my belt, and maybe even undo the top button of my pants. The idea is that I want to have plenty of room to take slow, deep breaths. Sometimes, I put a little cover over my legs, but in no way do I settle in for a long time. A perfect nap is about twenty minutes to half an hour.
I feel more relaxed just reading about this much less actually getting to lie down for a bit. I always loved the story about Winston Churchill who took his apres lunch nap so seriously that he would change into pajamas.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

G is for Gobstopper

The vulgar British term for a huge spherical, hard-boiled sugar sweet, impossible to crunch up so that it has to be sucked. It is often made with concentric layers of different colours, so that it changes colour as it dissolves.
Don't you just love that name? Somehow so much more vulgar and still so much better than "jawbreaker" ...

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The HobNob

The HobNob achieved one of those rare feats for new products by being simultaneously new and yet familiar, as if we were merely being reintroduced after an unexplained absence... The cheerful orange pack, the strap line 'One nibble and you're nobbled' and, of course, the name all helped to place the biscuit comfortably on the stage of UK biscuits. The name begged not to be taken seriously, and told us that this was a biscuit for the honest masses, at the time of the rise of the yuppie in Britain under Margaret Thatcher.
Not glamorous but with or without chocolate, these are one of the classic cookies around.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Picnics ... French Style

I have been on some nightmarish picnics in my time. I do not like going to the beach and sitting hunched over on a blanket in the hot sand, struggling to deal with an unappetizing lunch of sun-warmed bologna sandwich. Although this kind of memory is always good for a laugh afterward,it is not my idea of a nice time and I would never expect my guests to go through such an ordeal. The children end up cranky and crying and often the adults do too. This is not my idea of a picnic at all.

This being said, I do love a picnic in the French style, which of course, means comfort, comfort, and more comfort. First of all, a French person is simply not going to eat on the ground. Although we might lounge around on a blanket later, it is much better to eat sitting up. When you see a French family having their picnic lunch, they will be at a table -- either a permanent one or a folding model that they have brought with them -- or they will be sitting together on a bench. The food will be appealing but not too elaborate, and you will see right away that the people are taking their time to talk to each other while they eat. If they have packed their picnic at home, you can be sure that there will be proper glasses, silverware, and plates. There will be no crankiness and no crying. I have very fond memories of picnics like this.
Definitely there is a whole lot to be said for "comfort, comfort, and more comfort." I believe I could become much more fond of a picnic in this style ... although I am not giving up my paper plates and plastic cups for anyone. They are plenty comfortable enough if you buy decent ones.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Mrs. Darwin's Sausage Jambalaya

Yes, I know this actually came from a cookbook but somehow it will always be Mrs. Darwin's to me. I am reproducing part of her post here so I have it for posterity (and those times I need to make it again!).
One thing the Cajuns should be praised for is the way they have developed the art of sausage making. Once you have tasted andouille, chaurice, boudin rouge, boudin blanc, or saucisse boucaner, you've got to go back for more, and I've named but a few. Both the Creoles and the Cajuns used these delicious sausages in soups, vegetable dishes, in gumbos, and of course served by themselves.

One of the favorite uses is in a jambalaya. Here is an easy, quick way to whip up a tasty Sausage Jambalaya.

You will need about a pound or a pound and a quarter of chaurice, smoked sausage, or andouille. Slice the sausage into small pieces, then brown in a deep frying pan or Dutch oven. Take the meat out and put into the same fat, 2 large onions, chopped, 1/2 cup finely chopped celery, and one chopped bell pepper. Saute until tender. Mix in thoroughly 1 large can tomatoes. Add 2 bay leaves, 1/2 teaspoon basil, 1/2 teaspoon thyme, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, and 4 toes chopped garlic. Mix well and add 1 10 1/2-oz. can of been consomme and 2 cans of water. Let simmer for about 40 minutes.

Put the sausage back, and add salt, black pepper, and Tabasco to taste. Add 2 cups raw rice. Put a cover on and allow the mixture to cook slowly, stirring occasionally. As the rice begins to absorb the mixture, the jambalaya might get too dry. If so, add a little more water. Cook until the rice is tender.

Just before serving, stir into the jambalaya 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots and 2 tablespoons minced parsley. Let set for 10 minutes, then serve with a big chunk of French bread and butter. Serves four to six.

1 or 1 1/4 lbs. chaurice, smoked sausage, or andouille
2 large onions, chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 large can tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. chili powder
4 toes garlic, chopped
1 can beef consomme
2 cans water (instead of consomme and water, I use 4 cups chicken broth)
salt, black pepper, and Tabasco to taste
2 cups raw rice
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots (green onions -- I use the whole green onion, not just the white bit)
2 tbsp. minced parsley
That's how many of the recipes in the book work -- a story, seguing into cooking instructions, and at the end the ingredients list. Charming, n'est pas? Hope y'all like this jambalaya -- we've just finished ours, and it was tres bien.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

What Is It With Butter Carving?

I thought it was just something kooky that was a U.S. tradition as some state fairs ... this sculpture is being done for the 2005 Texas State Fair.

But evidently not ... this was done for an event in New Zealand (via Slashfood).

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Now Serving Hot Links

The March Hare looks at why lower income families don't cook at home and how it could be fixed.

Accidental Hedonist points us to an article about UK doctors calling for a kitchen knife ban. Will we all be forced to soft foods like Jello and cottage cheese? They can't possibly be serious.

I was shown to the kitchen to begin my food preparation for the following day's preliminary battle. It's a large, well-equipped kitchen with dozens of cooks. The food prepared here is a benefit for Google employees, whose average age is 25. Unlike a traditional restaurant where stringent food and labor costs dictate the menu, this is a chef's Disneyland where food is born of inspiration and pure love of cooking.

The food is served to thousands of well-educated and savvy foodies. Many of the ingredients are organic and locally grown. There is every imaginable seasonal produce item, the finest natural meats and poultry, fresh fish, lobster, rock shrimp and organic tofu -- both Japanese and Chinese.

One candidate recounts his interview which consisted of cooking lunch for 35. Via Slash Food.