Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Fourth and Final Christmas

Sorry Mom.  Sorry Dad.  Sorry other mom and dad.  Sorry step parents and step siblings and whomever else might be offended.  But Christmas #4 was my favorite.

Christmas #4 was the day after Christmas (so I'm only two days behind, if you're counting), and was spent in the company of my best friend Shana, who lives in New York, her friend Chris, and Jeff and my couple friend Denise and Scott.  I didn't worry about cleaning my house.  I didn't worry about being fancy.  Heck, Shana and Chris are vets, so I didn't even have to worry about my pets running amok because they're over all that.

And I got to make a turkey.  For those of you who don't memorize my every post, I have been jonesing to make a turkey since watching far too much Food Network/Cooking Channel at Thanksgiving.  And I even complained about not having the room/time to throw a turkey related dinner party.  Shows what I know!  Just another example of how you can't believe EVERYTHING your read on the internet.  Just stuff you read on Wikipedia.  That's all that's for sure true.

It was overall a successful evening, with just one minor flaw.  That being, I may have almost burned down my house.  I'm not sure.

I used a combination of two Alton Brown turkey recipes - brined and butterflied.  More specifically, I used the second recipe for dry brined, butterflied turkey, but instead of doing a dry brine I did a traditional brine.  Unfortunately, the recipe calls for placing the bird directly onto the oven rack of a 425 degree oven.  Of course, you put a pan below to catch the drippings, but you're still left with turkey fat dripping down, sizzling, and creating a lot of smoke.  A LOT of smoke.  Really.  I don't know if I did something wrong (the recipe does call for you to put root vegetables into the roasting pan under the turnkey, but I don't see why this would reduce the level of smoke.)  I suspect that Alton's fancy on camera kitchen and oven are both larger, better, and more well ventilated than mine, because we definitely had to open up all the windows and take down the lower level smoke detectors (hmm... have I put those back up yet...?  Better check on that).  In a moment of panic I even transferred the turkey from the oven rack into the actual rack of my roasting pan - hoping that this would cut down on the smoke building up inside my oven.  I don't think it did.  Really, the only thing that did anything was reducing the heat - which thankfully the recipe called for after 30 minutes.  So, I don't know if I did something wrong, or if my kitchen just isn't set up for that kind of thing, or if that was just what was supposed to happen.  Regardless, it was just a little bit of too much exciting.  The turkey was absolutely perfect, moist, browned, crispy skinned, and delicious, but I'll still think twice before trying that technique again.

We had pasta instead of potatoes because I am sick of potatoes, and because Shana mostly just eats pasta (not just as a substitute for potatoes.  Like, that is all she eats.  Like a small child.)  Plus I look for any opportunity to have this conversation:

"Do you like the pasta?"
"Yes, it's very good."
"I made it myself."
"What, like the sauce?"
"Well, yes, the sauce, but also the actual pasta."
"What?? You make your own pasta?"
"Why yes, I do.  I'm fancy."

And... scene.

Having really gotten pasta down, it is now quite easy.  Using my stand mixer, I let the dough kneed for a long time, but I don't have to do anything.  This time, I actually kneeded the dough while in the shower.  Now that's multitasking!

The pasta recipe I used was actually a modification of a Giada De Laurentis recipe, which is unusual because I don't really care for her.  She has far too many teeth.  But it worked out well, too, because we ended up watching Giada before dinner - mostly with the sound off making fun of her reaching for bowls that were just slightly out of her reach.  If you've seen the show, you'll get it.

Some of the reviews for this recipe said it was grainy and bland.  I'm not sure if the modifications I made prevented this, or if other people just overcooked the sauce, but I had no problems with consistency, and the six of us polished all of this pasta off as a side dish.  There could have been more.  It may have been the first time that I didn't make way too much food.

I like the wings!!!

Brined, Butterflied Turkey:

For the Brine:
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 tsp allspice berries
  • 2 1 inch chunks fresh garlic
  • 4-5 large cloves garlic - smashed
  • 2 bay leafs
  • 3 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 gallon plus more ice cold water
  • Ice cubes

For the Turkey:
  • 1 12 lb (ish) Turkey - thawed
  • 3 sprigs rosemary
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 lemon peel, pith removed
  • 1 stick butter, cut into 1 inch chunks

In a large pot, or cooler, or whatever (my dad uses a garbage bag.  I think that's gross.  I used my canning pot) combine all brine ingredients except ice and stir to combine and dissolve salt.  Add turkey (just the turkey.  Remove any reject bits from the cavity of the turkey, if included, and reserve for stock).  Add ice and additional water to cover turkey.  Store in a cold place (back porch, garage, etc) for 8 to 16 hours.

Remove turkey from brine and discard brine, with the exception of rosemary sprigs.

Rinse turkey inside and out with cold water, and dry thoroughly. 

Butterfly turkey by removing back bone using a sharp kitchen shears or heavy knife.  Reserve back bone for stock.  Place turkey cut side down on a large cutting board, and push down firmly until breast bone snaps and the turkey flattens slightly.

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.

In a food processor, combine rosemary, garlic, and lemon peel, and process until minced.  Add butter and process until well combined.  Rub the butter into the skin of the turkey (this will only work if the turkey is actually dry).

If you're feeling bold, place the turkey (cut side down) directly on the oven rack above a large roasting pan.  Or, for the less brave, use a rack inside of a roasting pan.  Tuck the rosemary sprigs from the brine into various folds in the turkey.

Bake at 425 for 30 minutes.  Then reduce the heat and bake at 350 degrees until the internal temperature of the turkey reaches 155 degrees - an additional 40 to 50 minutes.  Allow to rest 30 minutes before slicing.

Fettuccine Bake

  • 1 lb fresh fettuccine pasta
  • 2 cups grated white cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh chopped rosemary leaves
  • 1/2 tsp salt 
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until not quite al dente, stirring occasionally. 

In a large bowl combine the remaining ingredients. Gently toss with the pasta until all the ingredients are combined and the pasta is coated. Place the pasta in a buttered baking dish. At this point, you can cover the pasta and store in the fridge until ready to bake.  Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking.

Bake at 375 degrees until golden on top - about 25 minutes.  Let sit for at least 5 minutes before serving

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmases Two and Three

Christmas number two: Christmas Eve at my In-Laws at their house. Christmas number three: Christmas Day with my dad and stepmom at my house.

Christmas Eve dinner is kind of set.  It's basically been the same since long before I came around.  And my family has traditions that I would shit bricks if someone tried to mess with, so I keep my mouth shut.  Besides, it's good food, and I'm happy to not have to contribute.  I love cooking, and usually I get cranky if I'm not asked to bring something (or if I'm just asked to bring salad.  Or worse, fruit.  I'll bring salad AND fruit, but let me bring something I cooked, too.)  But Christmas is stressful, and I'm usually rushing around the day before Christmas (and Christmas Eve... and the day after) trying to get some last minute gift finished, so I'm happy to sit one out.

However, Jeff's mom did give me a great opportunity.  She and I share an Oberweis account (a local dairy that delivers milk, yogurt, etc).  She let me know that she was disappointed that they didn't offer any Christmas-y ice cream.  I love, love, LOVE making ice cream... so here we go!

Two out of three of my ice creams were perfect.  The third was delicious, but ugly.

The thing about ice cream is you can't try too hard.  It's not like pasta; you can't throw everything in it and expect it to work out somehow.   I've found that simpler is generally better... and that's where I went wrong.

My ice cream flavors are (starting at the top): Candy Cane Hot Fudge, Egg Nog, and Cranberry.

They all tasted delicious, and in the picture above you can't really tell that anything is wrong, but the candy cane was not what I wanted it to be.  For some reason, I thought that if I drizzled hot fudge into the ice cream while it was at the end of it's freezing process, it would swirl streaks of hot fudge in.

Not so much.  Really, it just turned the ice cream unevenly chocolaty, and left clumps of hot fudge at the bottom of the ice cream container.  Blah.  Next time I'll save the hot fudge for topping the ice cream when I'm ready to eat it.

The egg nog was absolutely perfect.  The best thing ever.  Egg nog is so creamy, and is quite possibly my favorite beverage in the whole world.  (I actually bought a few extra quarts from Oberweis and stuck them in my freezer so I can enjoy them all year round.  Egg nog ice cream in the summer might be perfect.  With a brandy old fashioned on a hot summer night... mmmm.... drool).

The cranberry was good.  It was cranberry ice cream.  Nothing new or exciting, but good.  Don't be afraid of the large quantities of booze in the cranberries.  It actually is really important, because it keeps the cranberries from turning into little frozen rocks inside the ice cream.  They become more of a cranberry slush.  I used honey, and I didn't use a lot of it, so my cranberries were very tart.  I like that, but you could use more sugar if you prefer sweetness throughout... or if you have someone elses kids that you want to sugar up!

Christmas day - dinner at my house - was the absolute opposite of Christmas Eve.  Everything was on me.  But I knew that I would be heading over to my Grandparents' house earlier in the day, and I didn't want to stress.  So I picked dishes that could be made in advance and baked with minimal effort while I finished cleaning the house.  The meal was warm, and filling, and made me want to take a great big nap.  I think it would be perfect for any winter dinner party, and I personally thought it was impressive, too, which is always a plus!  Fancy and Easy.  Just like me.  Wait, what?

This was a heavy meal, though.  I did cheat, and made a salad full of non-local veggies (local greens, radishes, and mushrooms, but also some non-local tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers) and I was glad I did.  Without something light and green and crispy, I could easily see this meal giving someone the meat and cheese sweats.

The potatoes, I thought, were a little liquid-y for my taste.  Okay, they were a lot liquidy.  I think I would skip all of the half and half in the recipe, and maybe use 1/4 cup of sour cream.  I'm writing the recipe as I found it on Epicurious, and as I cooked it this time around, but you might want to make that change if you're trying it out.

One note:  I have been doing a LOT of cooking with Oregano.  That's because I moved a large pot of oregano into the house and am growing it in a window.  I don't generally see oregano in a herb window box and I don't know why.  It's a weed, and will grow anywhere.

Christmas Day Dinner: Braised Lamb Shoulder with Figs and Goat Cheese Scalloped Potatoes

For the Lamb:
(recipe modified from William Sonoma)

  • 1 bone-in lamb shoulder, 4 to 4 1/2 lb.,
     rolled and tied, 
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • All-purpose flour for dredging
  • 4 to 5 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 large garlic cloves, crushed with the side of a knife
  • 1/2-inch-wide strips of peel from 1 lemon
     (with no bitter white pith)
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cloves 
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 8 oz. total dried figs, hard stems
     trimmed, figs halved or quartered
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh oregano
Preheat an oven to 325°F.

Pat the lamb dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Put the flour in a shallow bowl and dredge the lamb in the flour, shaking off the excess.

In a large heavy pot over medium-high heat, warm 4 tsp. of the olive oil. Add the meat and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer them to a platter. Reduce the heat to low and add the onion, garlic and lemon peel to the pan along with the remaining 1 tsp. oil, if needed. Cook, stirring frequently to incorporate some of the browned bits, until the onion starts to wilt, about 3 minutes.  Add the spices and saute until fragrant - about 1 minute more.

Lay the meat on the onion mixture and add the wine, stock and tomato paste. Bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook until the meat is very tender, about 2 1/4 hours, adding the figs during the last 30 minutes of cooking.

Transfer the meat and figs to a platter, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes. Skim the fat from the sauce. Set the pot over low heat and simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened, flavorful and reduced to about 1 1/4 cups, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper.

Discard the strings from the lamb, slice the meat across the grain and arrange the slices on the platter, surrounded by the figs. (Reserve the bone to use in a stock later).  Spoon the sauce over the meat and sprinkle with the oregano.  Serves 6 or more.

For the potatoes:

  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 cup crumbled soft fresh goat cheese (about 5 oz)
  • 2 to 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/8 ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup grated white goat cheddar
  • 2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
Preheat oven to 400°F. Generously butter 11x7x2-inch glass baking dish. Whisk first 7 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Arrange 1/3 of potatoes in bottom of prepared dish, overlapping slightly and covering completely. Pour 1/3 of cream mixture over. Top with 1/3 cheese.  Repeat layering potatoes, cream mixture, and cheese 2 more times. Bake uncovered until potatoes are tender and top is golden brown in spots, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Serve hot.

Christmas Eve: A Trio of Christmas Ice Creams

The trick to ice cream is to have everything ready ahead of time.  Especially your bowl full of ice.  Everything moves really fast, and you don't want to fall behind because letting the custard sit without cooling it will ruin it.

Yes, all of the directions here are exactly the same.  That's how you make ice cream!

Candy Cane Ice Cream
  • 1 1/2 cups half and half
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp peppermint extract
  • 1/8 cup crushed candy canes
Combine the egg yolks, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk until the yolks lighten in color and increase slightly in volume.  Add 1/2 cup of the cream and whisk until well combined. 

In a heavy saucepan, combine the half and half and remaining one cup of cream.  Add the peppermint.  Cook over medium heat until bubbles form around the edge of the pan: about 5 minutes.

Remove the cream mixture from the heat.  Turn the stand mixer on low, and with the whisk  running, slowly pour the cream mixture into the egg mixture.  Return to the sauce pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon - about 6 minutes.  DO NOT let the custard boil.

Immediately strain the custard through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl nested into a larger bowl filled with ice water.  Whisk constantly until the custard is cooled.  Cover with plastic wrap, placing the wrap directly onto the custard, and refrigerate at least three hours - preferably overnight.

When you are ready to freeze the ice cream, do so according to your ice cream maker's directions.  When the ice cream is almost set, add in the candy cane and let the ice cream maker incorporate it throughout the ice cream.

Freeze until firm.

Egg Nog Ice Cream
  • 1 1/2 Egg Nog
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
Combine the egg yolks, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk until the yolks lighten in color and increase slightly in volume.  Add 1/2 cup of the cream and whisk until well combined. 

In a heavy saucepan, combine the egg nog and remaining one cup of cream.  Cook over medium heat until bubbles form around the edge of the pan: about 5 minutes.

Remove the cream mixture from the heat.  Turn the stand mixer on low, and with the whisk  running, slowly pour the cream mixture into the egg mixture.  Return to the sauce pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon - about 6 minutes.  DO NOT let the custard boil.

Immediately strain the custard through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl nested into a larger bowl filled with ice water.  Whisk constantly until the custard is cooled.  Cover with plastic wrap, placing the wrap directly onto the custard, and refrigerate at least three hours - preferably overnight.

When you are ready to freeze the ice cream, do so according to your ice cream maker's directions.

Freeze until firm.

Cranberry Ice Cream

For the cranberries:
  • 1 cup frozen or fresh cranberries
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1/4 cup honey
Combine ingredients in a sauce pan and cook until cranberries begin to pop and soften.  Transfer to the fridge and allow to chill overnight.

Strain out any liquid before adding cranberries to the ice cream.
  • 1 1/2 cups half and half
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  •  1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Cranberries from above
Combine the egg yolks, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk until the yolks lighten in color and increase slightly in volume.  Add 1/2 cup of the cream and whisk until well combined. 

In a heavy saucepan, combine the half and half and remaining one cup of cream.  Add the vanilla.  Cook over medium heat until bubbles form around the edge of the pan: about 5 minutes.

Remove the cream mixture from the heat.  Turn the stand mixer on low, and with the whisk  running, slowly pour the cream mixture into the egg mixture.  Return to the sauce pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon - about 6 minutes.  DO NOT let the custard boil.

Immediately strain the custard through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl nested into a larger bowl filled with ice water.  Whisk constantly until the custard is cooled.  Cover with plastic wrap, placing the wrap directly onto the custard, and refrigerate at least three hours - preferably overnight.

When you are ready to freeze the ice cream, add the drained cranberries and freeze according to your ice cream maker's directions. 

Freeze until firm.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


This is an older recipe; I'll admit that.  Generally, when I get this far behind on my pictures vs. actual posts, I just tend to delete out the pictures and decide to give that recipe another time.  I do re-use recipes, after all.  I'll just post the next time I make whatever it might have been.

But I feel this recipe is too good to pass up on.

It's less of a recipe, really, and more of a concept.

I have a lot of friends who don't cook.  It's not their fault, really.  My friends are mostly my age, and most of them don't have families.  They're cooking for one or two, and really it's hard to make a "meal" for one or two.  Meals are generally made of larger quantities of food.

Jeff likes to make fun of me, because I always cook way more food than we need.  Now, part of that is that I like to cook so I tend to make more components than we really need, and part of that is I don't always read my recipe carefully enough to see how many servings it is.  AND part of it is that I'm lazy, and if one day's cooking is going to feed me for two days, I'm all for it.

But part of it is also that some food comes in natural quantities.  If I want to make a roast chicken, I have to roast a chicken.  Yes, I could make bakes chicken pieces, but that isn't a "roast chicken."  If I want a real roast chicken, I need to roast a whole chicken.  If I want to make beef stew, I'm going to need to use at least a 3 lb beef roast.  To make it any smaller means it isn't going to cook properly, unless you have a crazy assortment of different sized pans which, let's face it, you're not going to get if you don't already cook for yourself.  Which was the problem we started with.

So if you're really cooking for yourself, you're going to make too much food.

And then comes the next complaint:  I hate leftovers.  They're boring.  They never heat up right.  Blah, blah, blah.

And then the final complaint: It's too expensive.

Well, yeah.  If you're making food for 4, feeding 2, and leaving what's left in your fridge until it's turned into a science experiment, it's going to get spendy pretty quick.  I mean, you're paying DOUBLE what you should be.

And I totally understand the not wanting to eat leftovers.  I like variety too.  I do tend to take a lot of leftovers for lunch - because when I'm at work I don't expect that great of lunch anyway.  I guarantee my leftovers heated up in a work microwave are better than a frozen dinner heated up in the same work microwave.

But I digress.

The problem with leftovers is they're the same thing over and over again.  I don't want to eat the same thing two nights in a row.  As a general rule I DON'T eat the same thing two nights in a row.  Sometimes, if the food holds well, I'll skip a day (make the food Monday, eat something else Tuesday, eat leftovers Wednesday), which works, but still wouldn't be my preference.

My preference would be to turn the leftovers into a totally different meal.

I actually really enjoy leftovers.  They're an opportunity to experiment.  I often feel like I'm on an episode of Chopped in my kitchen.  "And the basket (AKA my fridge) contains:

  • Half a leftover pot roast
  • Feta cheese
  • 3 eggs
  • Some old mushrooms

Or super fun.  One of my favorite ways of using up leftovers in a frittata.  If they feed it to us at brunch, it has to be good, right?  And, you should know that the frittata (or quiche, or omelet special) that you're eating at your favorite brunch place is just the leftovers from last night's dinner service.  One example of this is my previously posted spaghetti fritatta.  The other awesome thing about fritatta is that they can be frozen.  I actually did this with the aforementioned spaghetti fritatta.  Again, talking about needing to make too much food... Jeff and I can eat about half of a fritatta.  The other half, I froze.  Freezing eggs works quite well.  Cut the fritatta into single serving sizes, wrap each serving individually in plastic wrap (tightly) and then aluminum foil.  Then put the whole thing into a freezer bag.  Once you're ready to eat, take the completely frozen fritatta, unwrap, and place directly onto a cookie pan and into a 350 degree oven.  It will need to bake for about 20-40 minutes, depending on how thick it is.  And it's not leftovers if you're eating it a month later, right?

Another way I like to use my leftovers is in a pizza.  A pizza does not need to be pepperoni or sausage.  In fact, it doesn't even need tomato sauce.  Really.  I promise.  You can trust me; I'm a quarter Italian.

I have been known to make my own pizza dough, but it's never turned out quite right.  And I've found that I can purchase uncooked, frozen pizza dough from my local bakery for almost nothing.  Less than a dollar.  Thaw, roll up, and top with anything.

This pizza was actually made with Thanksgiving leftovers.  I like to roll out the pizza dough (use cornmeal to keep it from sticking) and bake it for a little bit first.  Just enough for it to be stiff - not enough for it to be crispy - about 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven.  Once the dough is partially cooked, I top it with whatever I have on hand.  In this case, I used some pesto (which I made from basil from my garden and froze), some thinly sliced steamed sweet potatoes (don't boil sweet potatoes - steam them.  Boiling them tends to make them mushy and less sweet), and shredded leftover turkey.  A little bit of mozzarella cheese over the top, pop it back into the oven until everything is heated through, the crust is crispy, and the cheese is melted.

Voila!  Pizza.  Not leftovers; a full new meal.  Less than a dollar spent to eat up food that was already in the fridge and probably was going to be thrown out.

So think about this, when you are sent home packing tons of Christmas leftovers.  Or, more realistically, when you're looking at those leftovers in the back of your fridge and thinking "oh my god, if I eat that for one more meal I will puke."  The food is still good, but if you don't eat it today it probably won't be tomorrow.  Don't choke it down.  Don't throw it out.  Mix it into eggs and make a fritatta.  Throw it on top of some dough and turn it into a pizza.  You spent all your money on presents anyway; put your leftovers to good use!

Leftover Pizza
  •  1 ball pre-made pizza dough, thawed
  • Cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup sweet potato, quartered and thinly sliced (or any kind of vegetables)
  • 1/4 cup shredded turkey (or any kind of meat)
  • 1/4 cup pre-made pesto (or tomato sauce)
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (or any kind of cheese)
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.  Sprinkle a small amount of cornmeal onto a workstation, and roll out your dough.  You don't need to roll out pizza dough to thin - make it easy on yourself and make a thick crust!  Once you've got your dough to the size you want, put it on a pizza stone (again, sprinkle on a small amount of cornmeal first), and place it in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes, checking occasionally.  You want to pull the dough out when the bottom is just starting to brown.  The top should still be pale.

Meanwhile, slice up your sweet potato and steam over a small amount of boiling water until tender.  I don't have a fancy steamer, and just use a wire strainer placed over (but not touching) a pot of boiling water.  (It can touch the pot.  It just shouldn't touch the water...).

Once the pizza dough is partially cooked, remove from the oven.  At this point, I like to flip it over so the just barely browned side is up.  This way, the size touching the pizza stone (which was the top but is now the bottom) will continue to brown, and the top is still a little crispy.  Spread the pesto across the top of the crust, then top with the meat and vegetables.  Finally, sprinkle the cheese over the top of the pizza and place back in the oven.  Continue to bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the bottom of the crust is crispy, the meat is heated through, and the cheese is melty.

Monday, December 19, 2011

First Christmas

11 hits from Germany this week!  Way to be awesome, Germany!  I would make something German, but I don't really know any German recipes.  I do take suggestions!  Come to think of it, I did Christmas with my mom's side of the family last night, and she got me a meat grinder/sausage maker... so I could make sausages.  Sausages are German.  Unless that's a racist thing to say, in which case, sorry.  I love sausages! <---Fact.

Anyway, yesterday was family Christmas with my mom's family.  We've got three families to arrange Christmas with, and they all live in opposite directions in the state, so things need to be spread out over more than two days.

I had a great time.  My sister has a two year old, and his complete joy at opening presents has actually gotten me in a Christmas-y mood.  Which is a big deal for me.  I generally am one of those people who just gets stressed out and angry at Christmas time, and most of the time it doesn't seem worth the trouble.  But a two year old giggling uncontrollably whilst throwing colored bits of paper up into the air - along with a whole lot of wine (for me, not the two year old!) - has made me downright jolly.  Really.  I listened to Christmas carols on my way in to work today.  I may have even sung along!

At any family dinner, I am always in charge of vegetables.  I feel like vegetables - especially salad - tend to be overlooked in the big meal.  This may be a Wisconsin thing, but meat and potatoes are always the star.  Vegetables are there to have something green on the table, but generally are afforded very little room on the plate!

But good vegetables are good.  And I don't always care for meat that much when other people are cooking.  One of the realizations I have made in this locavore quest is how different "real" meat tastes from the meat you buy in the grocery store.  In fact, there was a time that I thought I didn't like meat.  I even considered becoming a vegetarian!  Imagine!! Turns out I just don't like crappy meat.

But, I do understand that not everyone has the time/money to buy fresh local meat, and I don't begrudge them that, I just fill up on vegetables.  Vegetables that I bring, so I know that they're good.

Which is why I have become the vegetable girl!

I did ask ahead and found out that there would not be room for me in the oven (seriously, people.  It's only polite to ask!), so I made two crock pot vegetable dishes, both of which could be warmed in the microwave if necessary (and it was).  My only complaint with either of these was in regards to the beets.  I used a combo of red and yellow beets, which I should have realized was a bad plan.  Some of the yellow beets got stained with the red beets, but not allover, which just ended up making them look weird.  They still tasted delicious, but it was kind of like someone colored on them with a big red marker.  In the future, I think I'd only use one color of beets in this dish.

This was probably my favorite beet preparation so far.  And it was a lot easier than some of the others, so this concept is something I might stick to moving forward.  I figure it should work with a lot of different flavors.  As written, it was very Christmas-y!

While the beets were my favorite, the squash was the star of the show.  I didn't get to take any home, so I will be making more soon.  I also promised my sister that I would get this posted today so she could steal the recipe... I'm just barely making good on that promise!

Braised Beets with Orange and Clove 
(I have to be honest, here, only the beets and honey are local...)
  • 3 lbs beets (stick to the same color beets)
  • grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
Peel beets, and cut into 1/2 inch slices.  Season with salt and pepper, and place in the slow cooker.  Combine remaining ingredients, and pour over beets.  Cover, and cook on low for 4 to 5 hours.  I held mine on warm for about 2 hours longer, and they held up nicely.

Spicy Squash with Garlic-Yogurt Sauce

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 1/2 lb squash, peeled, cut in half, and cut into 1 1/2 inch thick slices (I used a combination of butternut and an orange squash that I bought because it was pretty, but which I have no clue what it is)
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1 small diced Thai chili (frozen from my garden)
  • 1/2 pint tomato sauce (from my canning frenzy!)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
 For the Yogurt Sauce
  • 1 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp fresh chopped mint
In a large frying pan, over medium high heat, warm the olive oil.  Working in batches, add the squash, season with salt and pepper, and saute until evenly browned, about 7 minutes.  Transfer to the slow cooker.  Add ginger, garlic, coriander, cinnamon, curry, and chilis, and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Stir in the tomato sauce, the honey, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper.  Stir, scrapping the bottom of the pan, and bring to a boil.  Pour over squash in crock pot.  Cover and cook until squash is tender but still holds it's shape.  I cooked mine a little too long.  It was good, but falling apart more than I would have liked.  I would say four hours on the low setting and not a minute longer!  Maybe only 3 and a half if you're going to need to heat it up later.

Meanwhile, or the day before, combine yogurt, garlic, mint, and 1/2 tsp salt.  Cover and refrigerate until serving.

Finally, I promised my step-dad that I would post a picture of his stollen bread.  Look how pretty.  And!  Stolen is German!  Yay!  Full Circle!!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fish Chowder

If you've read this blog before, you know that I like food that is easy, as well as a nice big warm bowl of soup or stew.  Well, another thing I like is recipes that are highly adaptable.  While I try to meal plan, I'm not great at keeping track of what is actually in my cupboard.  My poor husband does regularly have to make a quick run to the grocery store to get me whatever it is I may need.  So, I like a recipe where you don't really NEED anything.  A "throw in what you've got" recipe.

I feel like this recipe suits that need.

I also liked the fact that this soup was very light.  Cream soups are often quite heavy - especially chowders - and make me feel like I should probably do a bunch of sit-ups.  Except for the goopy chowder is now sitting like a rock in the pit of my stomach, so sit-ups are really out of the question.

This was very light, and almost tasted a little citrus-y to me, even though there's no citrus in the recipe.  I would suggest using a high quality champagne or white wine vinegar.  It's the only acid in the recipe, and the flavor is important.  I feel like it's a good light winter meal, but also would probably be very good in the summer.  Also, if you're not limited in your ingredients, you could do a lot of experimenting with the recipe base.  I feel like shrimp could be a nice addition, or maybe some bay scallops.  Or both.  Add them at the end where you would have added the fish (or add fish to for a super-seafood chowder!)

I added corn, which was not in the original recipe, because I had some frozen corn from the summer.  You could also add mushrooms, for a richer, earthier chowder.  Or, really, whatever vegetables you have!

I also could have topped this with the corn salsa I made during my canning frenzy, but I totally didn't think about it until it was too late.

Also, I want to point out that this recipe has NO garlic.  NONE?  Yes, none.  And it still tasted good.  I am shocked.  I didn't feel like it needed it...

Trout and Potato Chowder
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped (celery saves in the freezer well for purposes like this.  So plan ahead for the winter!  Wait, it's too late.  Sorry, I should have told you that two months ago.)
  • 1 lb potatoes, unpeeled
  • 4 cups stock (fish, vegetable, or chicken.  I don't feel like my fish stock has quite enough flavor, so I used 2 cups fish and two cups chicken.)
  • 2/3 cups dry white wine
  • 1 tsp dried tarragon
  • 1/2 cup diced cooked ham
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels 
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 lb fresh white fish (I used rushing waters trout)
  • 1/2 lb smoked fish (again, rushing waters trout...)
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
In a large frying pan over medium heat (or using the browning feature on your slow cooker if it has one), melt the butter.  Add the onion and celery and saute until softened, about 6 minutes.  Transfer the contents of pans to a slow cooker (if not already there!)

Cut the potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes and add to the slow cooker.  Season with salt and pepper, and stir to combine.  Top with stock, wine, tarragon, ham, and corn.  Cover and cook on the low setting for 6-8 hours.  The potatoes should be very tender.

Cut the fresh fish into 1 inch pieces.  Remove the skin from the smoked fish, discard the skin, and flake the smoked fish into pieces.  Add the fish and cream to the slow cooker, and increase the setting to high.  Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until fish is firm and opaque.  Stir in the vinegar, taste, and adjust the seasoning.

As a final note: Come on, Russia!  Where did you go?  Germany is taking a big lead.  But you can crush them!  Click on a bunch of links.  You don't have to read anything, just click the links.  Lets get those international page views up!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Slightly Less Than a Shit-Ton of Meat

Saturday was an exciting day in the Oscarson household.  Saturday was... wait for it...


Yay!  My shiny new chest freezer has arrived.  Better yet, I think it spent the night on the truck, so it was almost all the way cold when it got delivered.

Now, I didn't know it was going to be pre-cooled, but fortunately when you live in WI in December, your backyard is a freezer too.  (This is not fair.  It has been unseasonably warm.  I do love me some global warming just a little.  But there was a high of only 20 this past Saturday).  Which means that I could go to the farmer's market and buy meat, not knowing exactly when the freezer would be delivered (between 11 and 2) or how long it would take it to chill. 

And so buy meat I did.  What I would have called a shit-ton of meat.  I bought chicken, and a turkey, and pork, and beef, and lamb!  Yes, the lamb people were at the farmer's market, and I stocked up! 

And as I handed over all my money I thought "well, that is sure a shit-ton of meat."

And as I hauled the bags to my car I thought, "boy, a shit-ton of meat sure is heavy!"

And as I piled it on the kitchen table to take a picture and brag to my husband about what all I got, we both were convinced that we had a shit-ton of meat on our hands.

And then the freezer came.
Now, I do not have great spacial reasoning skills, as proven by the fact that the freezer did not really fit in the space I prepared for it.  And, sure, I know chest freezers are big, but I thought I bought a fairly small one.  7 cubic feet is, after all, not that much.  Heck, most of the Energy Star chest freezers I looked at were 15-25 cubic feet.

So, you can imagine my surprise when my supposed shit-ton of meat turned promptly into almost nothing when placed at the bottom of an empty chest freezer:
Where did all my shit-ton of meat go?  Did the meat gnomes steal it?
I did clean out my regular freezer - which was so full it didn't want to stay closed - and I got the chest freezer to a more respectable level of fullness:

Still, though.  A lot of empty space in there.  Might be time to get some bulk beef.  I'm thinking a 1/4 beef should do...

And what's for dinner?  Meat, of course!  Boring, I know, but nothing makes me happier than a baked chicken.  I cheated just a little and got a lemon, and I blended together olive oil, garlic, oregano (the indoor oregano is doing GREAT!  You can't kill that stuff even if you let a cat sleep in the middle of the pot!), and lemon zest, and then rubbed that all over the outside of a butterflied chicken.  I served this with cheddar ranch broccoli and cauliflower. 

The broccoli was definitely an exercise in frustration.  It was something I knew should exist.  We had a large amount of ranch dressing in the refrigerator which was going to go bad before we could eat it.  Parents make their kids eat broccoli, and parents use ranch dressing to make kids eat vegetables, so cheddar ranch broccoli should be a thing.  But it's not.  Why?  I don't know.  I scoured the internet for something that wasn't a gross sounding egg bake casserole (there's a lot of this recipe floating around out there) and finally found a cheddar broccoli that used a roue base.  I figure, add some ranch into the roue, and there you go!

No.  Too much flour, the cheese melted and turned into an oily mess.  It was awful.  I'm not sure what I did wrong.  So I ended up just taking the broccoli and cooking it on its own, tossing it in some ranch dressing, and letting some cheddar cheese melt on top.

And do you know what?  It was delicious.  Fatty, unhealthy, not even good for you anymore vegetable delicious.

Exactly what my little heart wants sometimes.

And Sunday for dinner, I baked up a spaghetti squash.  Spaghetti is by far my favorite squash.  Like many of your winter squashes, it keeps well in a cool dark place, so I bought a lot at the last outdoor farmer's market of the season, and have them sitting in my basement waiting for me to eat all winter!  I have seen microwave directions for making spaghetti squash, but I prefer the traditional method.  Cut the squash in half the long way and scoop out the seeds (which I saved, and have soaking in salt water as we speak, ready to bake up.)  Drizzle some olive oil over the squash, and season with salt and pepper.  Bake, cut side down, in a 350 degree oven, until the outside of the squash can be pierced easily with a fork.

Once the squash is done, allow it to cool, and then scrape out the inside with a fork, going with the grain of the squash (side to side).  It will flake out in strings, like spaghetti.

You can then treat this exactly like you would pasta for a low carb equivalent... because... if you know anything about me... I try to be low carb...

Wait... that's not right...

Anyway, I tossed mine with some pesto, and some of the leftover chicken from Saturday night.  It was good!!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Two Weeks Until Christmas

Just so you are prepared, I don't like Christmas.  Yes, food.  Yes, parties.  Yes, whatever.  Too much stress.  Too much to do.  No time to care about the things that interest me, like blogging.  TOday is perhaps the first time I've ever experienced writers block on this blog.  But, I haven't posted in like 3 days, and I feel like I should say something.

I bought a tiny rosemary bush shaped like a Christmas tree.  Once the holiday is over, I can eat it! 

St. Nick brought me bacon flavored candy canes.  And a bunch of citrus fruit.  I guess St. Nick was afraid that, with only local food, I was going to get the scurvy.

My chest freezer is being delivered tomorrow.  I'm going to go to the farmer's market tomorrow and buy a shit-ton of meat to put in it.  It's cold enough outside that I'm just going to leave the meat in the back yard until the freezer gets cold.

I think that's it.  You are now up to date.

I'll do better next time...

Monday, December 5, 2011

Chicken Fried Steak... Perhaps...

One thing that can be a problem with experimenting with cooking new foods, is that I don't always know what I'm supposed to be making, so I'm not always sure if I got it right.

For example, a while back I bought some cube steak, expecting it to be cubed chunks of steak for a stew or something like that.  Instead, I got a highly tenderized cut of steak.  I got two packages.  The first, I made into a beef stroganoff.  The other, I put in my freezer with a promise to make chicken fried steak.

I am making good on that promise!

As I said at the time, I have never made chicken fried steak, I have never eaten chicken fried steak, and I don't know what makes a thing chicken fried.  (Really.  Click on the link.  I said all that!)

According to Wikipedia, Chicken Fried Steak, Pan Fried Steak, and Country Fried Steak are all the same thing.  A piece of tenderized cube steak, coated with seasoned flour and pan fried.  Also, Chicken Fried Steak is the unofficial state food of Texas.

Okay, so lets ask Texas. 

According to the Texas State Historical Association, Wikipedia got it right!  One theory states that Chicken Fried Steak is a variation of Wiener Schnitzel.  (Yay Germany!  Germany, by the way, is now beating Russia 61 to 55 in my all time hits from countries that aren't the US total.  Come on, Russia.  Man up.  You can do better!)  Another theory is that a short order cook in Lamesa, Texas, invented the dish by accident in 1911, when he combined two orders into one.  A happy accident, but I've had Wiener Schnitzel, and I believe that theory more.  It seems to me that people are always looking for ways to make inedible food (like really tough cuts of meat) edible, and pounding thin, coating in crispy flavor, and deep frying seems like a good way to do that.

Deep frying.  I did not deep fry my steak.  According to the Texas State Historical Association, there are three ways of making chicken fried steak:

1. East Texas: The steak is dipped in egg and then flour. 
2. Central Texas: The steak is dipped in egg and then bread crumbs.
3. West Texas: The steak is JUST dipped in flour.

I went with my usual choice - the Alton Brown version.  Of course, Alton had you tenderizing your own meat, so I just skipped that part.  To be fair, I can't guarantee this is really chicken fried steak, as I said I had never eaten it before this meal, but whatever it was it was good - and Alton Brown is from Georgia and therefore I trust him to tell me about Southern Food.  Also I trust him for everything having to do with food.  I have considered getting shirts that read W.W.A.D?  (What Would Alton Do?)  Don't steal that or I will punch you.

I think when I make this again (Read: WHEN I make this again.  It was damn good) I will use more oil and get a little closer to deep frying then just pan frying.  This also might be a good time to utilize some of my saved up bacon fat!

Chicken Fried Steak
  •  2 large cube steaks, about 1 lb total (I cut each one in half to make handling it easier)
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, butter, or if you're feeling frisky, bacon fat.  Or some "healthy" combination of two choices.
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves (I moved my herbs into a pot inside!  Fresh herbs all winter!!)
Preheat oven to 250 degreens.

Season the flour with salt, pepper, garlic, and onion powder, and place in a square baking dish or large bowl.  Beat the eggs well in a different baking dish or bowl.  Dredge the meat on both sides in the flour, then dip into the egg, then dredge in the flour again.  Repeat with all the meat.  Place the meat on a plate, and allow it to sit 10 to 15 minutes before cooking.

Place enough of your grease to cover the bottom of a 12 inch pan, and set over medium high heat.  You want to make sure it gets really hot.  Once the grease is hot, add the meat in batches, being careful not to over crowd the pan.  Cook each piece on both sides until golden brown, approximately 4 minutes per side.  Transfer to a sheet pan or baking pan in the oven, and repeat until all the meat is browned.

Add at least one teaspoon more oil to the pan, and reduce the heat to medium.  Add the garlic, and saute about two minutes.  Add 3 tablespoons left over dredging flower, and stir for about 5 more minutes, being careful not to let the garlic burn.  Deglaze the pan with the chicken broth, and whisk until the gravy comes to a boil and begins to thicken.  Add the milk and thyme, and whisk until the gravy coats the back of a spoon - about 5 to 10 minutes.  Season to taste with more salt and pepper if needed.  Serve the gravy over the steaks.

I served this with mashed potatoes and cranberries from Thanksgiving.  Yeah, I made this last week...