Saturday, November 25, 2006

Weekend Cookbook Challenge #11: Party Food

For most of us in the US, from the end of November though the first week of January means one long party. We go from Thanksgiving right into the Holiday rush of shopping, decorating, and cooking to the rounds of merry-making and good cheer that Christmas, Hanukkah, and the New Year bring. Sara at I Like to Cook and the hostess of Weekend Cookbook Challenge is here to help with the cooking part with this month's theme for the Weekend Cookbook Challenge #11: Party Food!

MBH and I have a very small, almost non-existent group of friends and now that we are an old staid pair, we don't party like we used to but I was able to find a recipe to try for this installment of WCC from one of my newest additions to my ever expanding cookbook collection, Paula Deen Celebrates! I picked this cookbook up right before Thanksgiving mainly for Paula's Buttermilk Biscuits but flipping through the cookbook several recipes struck me as delicious sounding, and one of them was absolutely perfect for Party Food, The Lady & Sons Crab Stuffed Shrimp.

There is a little bit of prep work involved with this recipe that mainly involves finding really big jumbo XXL shrimp and cleaning them. After a visit to two fishmongers in my area, I found 2 lbs of massive shrimp and the fish guy was even nice enough to devein them for me! I also picked up the lump crab meat ready to go in a nice tub. Once I got home, I put the shrimp and crab into the fridge, turned the oven to preheat and started making the filling. I would recommend chopping the veggies that go into the stuffing very, very fine as, even though the shrimp are huge, you are still going to stuff them and if you are like me, I would rather have more crab and less pepper and onion. I also added red pepper, onions and mushrooms to the mix that weren't called out in the recipe and substituted two left-over Parker House Rolls from Thanksgiving for the saltine crackers. I also skipped the cayenne pepper because I was out. The shrimp came together in about 25 minutes with a piece of bacon to hold the stuffing in the shrimp. I got about 12 shrimp from the 2lbs. While they were in the oven, I made the Basil Cream Sauce to dip the stuffed shrimp into.

Twenty minutes later, I had a plate full of crab stuffed shrimp that dressed up real darn pretty with a slender slice of red pepper and a bit of garlic chive. I have to say the shrimp stands up very nicely on it's own without the Basil Cream Sauce. In fact, I liked them better without the sauce. Lady & Sons Crab Stuffed Shrimp: elegant, tasty party food you can eat with your fingers.

Crab Stuffed Shrimp
Adapted from Paula Deen Celebrates

1 1/2 tablespoon butter
1 green onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup sweet onion finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1/8 cup finely chopped button mushroom stems
1/4 tsp garlic powder
dash salt
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
1/2 cup saltine cracker crumbs or very fine bread crumbs
1/4 cup mayonnaise (I used Mircle Whip)
1 large egg
2 tsp minced fresh parsley
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 lb lump crabmeat, picked through for shells
1 lb extra large or jumbo shrimp (peeled, deveined with tails on)
12 slices bacon, halved (low sodium bacon is good)

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Melt butter in large saute pan over medium heat and saute onions, peppers, and mushrooms until peppers just soft. Remove from heat and place sauted veggies in bowl. Add garlic powder and salt and stir. Add mustard, egg, parsley, lemon juice, and cracker/bread crumbs. Mix well and gently fold in the crabmeat. Split the shrimp in half, careful not to cut all the way through. Place a small spoonful of stuffing on the shrimp and fold over, wrapping the stuffed shrimp with a piece of bacon and securing the whole thing with a toothpick. Place shrimp on a baking sheet and cook in top 1/3 of oven for 15 -20 minutes until bacon is cooked and stuffing is starting to turn a bit brown. Turn the oven to broil and broil for 3-5 minutes until bacon is crisp. Garnish with chives and pepper slices.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Giving Thanks for the Bounty We have Received

For me, beyond the joy of the food, Thanksgiving is a time to be reflective of the the things that are good in my life and hopeful that for those less fortunate than I that things will get better.

I am thankful for MBH and his support and his sense of humour (Lord knows that living with me he needs it). I am thankful my mother, who is also my best friend, is still with us after her heart attack earlier this year. I am thankful that MBH's father, who had a stroke earlier this month, is doing better (and hopeful he will be home for Christmas). I am thankful for the friends who share the ups and downs of my life. I am thankful for the opportunities I have to share with you, my readers.

I am hopeful that those who today could not be with their families will be surrounded by their loved ones next year. I am hopeful there will be one less soup kitchen in Boston next year and not because funding was cut but because the need is no longer there. I am hopeful that next year there will be at least one less war in this world. I am hopeful for my fellow man that good and truth will always triumph.

So, as both MBH and LB snore beside me in bed, I'll leave you with three pictures of Thanksgiving at our house in Cambridge, MA. Even on this rainy and cold day our house was warm with the joy of a good meal shared with loved ones and the wishes of Thanksgiving from those far away.

The Bounty on the table

A VERY satisfied guest

Three days to prepare, Thirty minutes to eat, Three hours to clean up after!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day 9: Sprinting to the Finish

I swam competitively from the time I was nine years old until my sophomore year in college. I was a formidable long distance backstroker and freestyler; not because I was necessarily faster but because I was patient and liked the mental game of long distances. I would let my competitors sprint off the block and even build up a one lap lead, giving them time to settle down into a pace that allowed me to put myself into the middle-rear of the pack. Then, about half way through the race, I would begin to move up slowly. Until, on the very last two laps, I was stalking the leaders, one or two body lengths behind. When we would hit the wall for the last turn, I would always kick it into overdrive and, normally, over take the leaders for a win. It would frustrate my rivals (and my coaches/team mates) because after a while the other girls I swam against regularly would know my game and try and open up even larger leads at the beginning of the race. They would only find that at the last turn I would still force them into a mad dash for the finish. Preparing for this year's Thanksgiving dinner has been a lot like swimming 5000 meters; minus the wet hair and chlorine.

I got up this morning with good intentions to jump right into making the dough for the Parker House Rolls, followed by the crust for the pumpkin pie, boiling the turnips and carrots for the turnip carrot puff, making my great-great-grandmother's cranberry chutney, and still have time to play. Somehow, the morning got away from me. MBH had to work and instead of my usual dash from the coffee shop to the gym at 6AM, I lounged around the coffee shop long enough to read two days worth of the New York Times, drink a second cup of coffee and day dream about the time off I have for the next several days. I didn't get to the gym until almost 7:30am and by the time I finished my work-out, it was almost 9 O'Clock!! I high tailed it home to shower and then somehow got distracted by working on my website, reading blogs, IMing MBH, and dashing to the front door to watch our neighbors scramble to avoid getting towed for parking on the wrong side of the street on a street cleaning day. Around 1pm this afternoon I finally got motivated enough to start cooking.

I started off by making my great-great-grandmother's cranberry chutney. I like making this for a couple reasons. First, it is just delicious. A true, old fashioned chutney full of apples, oranges, cranberries, nuts, and celery.

Second, I get to use two of my kitchen appliances that I don't normally use very often, my blender and my mini-food processor. My great grandmother, grandmother, and mother all used/use an old fashioned hand meat grinder to make this chutney. In fact their method usually results in a much finer, more uniform chop than mine, something more like a puree than a chutney. But that is ok! I like my interpretation of the recipe with the uneven chunks of cranberry, apple, nut and celery resulting in a very nice texture and crunch.

After I had mixed the chutney together and set it into the refrigerator to chill, I chopped the turnips and carrots into small cubes to boil with some salt before mashing them with butter.

I wasn't planning of completely finishing the turnip/carrot puff today as I don't have room in the refrigerator for all the dishes and knew that I need to rely on nature's icebox (our back hallway)to keep a few things cold. Since the puff recipe calls for milk and eggs, I felt it was best to get the turnip/carrot mash done and finish the dish tomorrow; even with the predicted upper 20's/low 30's night time temperatures. By this time it was almost 3pm and I hadn't even begun the pumpkin pie.

I have a love-hate relationship with pie crust. I love really flaky homemade pie crusts. My mother is a master pie crust maker. I use her recipe but for some reason, my crusts NEVER turn out flaky the way a good pie crust should. I think it is because, as a bread maker, I have this natural urge to over handle the dough, thus working out the little bits of butter/lard that make pie crust shatter when you cut into it with a fork. This year, I was bound and determined that I would master pie crust. I started by putting the metal mixing bowl, the pastry cutter, and the butter/crisco already cut up into little chunks, into the freezer. I followed my mother's recipe to the letter but when the prebaked pie shell came out of the oven, it was overdone on the bottom (oops, rolled it too thin there!) and not flaky at all. It was almost lead like in fact. Back to the drawing board...

As much as I love my mother's recipe, I decided that enough was enough and I WAS NOT going to resort to buying a pie shell. I was going to master flaky pie crust if it was the last thing I baked. Browsing through Dorie Greenspan's Baking from My Home to Yours, I found a pie crust recipe that looked promising if a little unorthodox. I marked it and kept reading. The King Arthur's Baker's Companion's recipe was pretty close to my mother's. Since I wasn't having luck with my mother's I suspect I would get similar results with their's. After looking through a few more cookbooks, I decided to use a combination of the recipe/steps called for America's Test Kitchen's Baking Illustrated and the recipe from Baking from My Home to Yours. The result was perfect! It took a little more time to do than my mom's recipe (her recipe doesn't call to freeze the pie crust before baking it) but worth it. The crust is flaky and buttery without being too heavy. I used the recipe I've been using for years for the pumpkin pie filling, the one off the back of the One-Pie pumpkin can. The pie smells and looks super yummy!

It was almost 7pm when I finished making the second pie crust and I hadn't even begun to get the brine ready for the turkey or cook the sweet potatoes and I was starting to wind down. MBH suggested that maybe we didn't need sweet potatoes, after all, he wouldn't be eating any and it seemed like a lot of work to do for just me. I have to admit, I agreed with him at the time but changed my mind a little later. Finally, about an hour ago, after peeling the sweet potatoes, slicing them and putting them into an orange juice/brown sugar bath for the night, I got the turkey into the brine and settled down with a little Coke and a whole lotta rum to write this post...sprinting to the end.

My Great-Great-Grandmother's Cranberry Chutney
note: the original written recipe called for boiling 6 pigs feet and 6 tails to get the gelatin. My great-grandmother started using Jello gelatin in the 20's and my grandmother used cherry Jello (what I call for in my version and my mom uses).

1/2 lb fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
2 apples (one red, one green) peeled, cored, and chopped coarse
1/2 cup coarse chopped celery
1/2 cup nuts (I use walnuts or pecans)
2 oranges, peeled and seeded (reserve some peel or zest them before peeling)
1 small package cherry flavoured gelatin

Put the cranberries, apple, celery, oranges, and peel/zest into a food processor and chop using the pulse until chunky (you can also do this in a blender or hand grinder, one ingredient at a time and mix the ingredients into a large bowl). Stir in the cup of sugar and set aside. Mix 1/2 cup boiling water with the cherry flavoured gelatin and let cool. Add to the cranberry mixture, stirring well and put in the refrigerator for at least two hours or until set. Best made several days ahead of time and freezes really well!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day 8: MBH's Green Beans

Made the last stop at the World's Worst Grocery Store (W^2) tonight to pick up the green beans and fresh thyme for Thanksgiving. I wanted to do this last night but after work I drove by the W^2 and the parking lot was full with people waiting to find parking spots. So, tonight after a 2.5 hour commute home (normal commute is 1 hour) I was forced to stop or the green beans wouldn't have enough time to be perfect for Thanksgiving. MBH only requires two things for Thanksgiving: turkey and green beans made with his family recipe. The "recipe", such that it is, calls for the green beans to be prepared at least one day before you eat them. They are best though two to three days after you first fix them. I'll fix them tomorrow to serve with pork chops and then reheat them on Thanksgiving.

MBH tells the story of how when he moved to Colorado Springs, where he lived before moving to Boston seven years ago, his dad was afraid he wouldn't be able to find good green beans in Colorado. "Son, I'm going to send you some beans", his dad told him. MBH told him not to because he could find green beans in Colorado. But his dad was sure they wouldn't be the right green beans so he went ahead and sent MBH some anyways. Only problem was, his dad washed them first. When MBH received the package several days later, he opened the box to find a plastic grocery bag full of a black, gooey mess. Every year, his dad still asks MBH if we want him to send us some green beans from "The South" and every Thanksgiving, MBH tells him "No thanks, Pops. I think we'll be ok. BUT if you have your heart set on it, DO NOT WASH THEM!!"

MBH's Family Green Beans
Serves 8 -10 or 2 people for several meals

7-9lbs fresh green string beans
1 lb salt pork with lots of meat
1 cup water
1 large stew pot
1 slow cooker with removable crock

The night before cooking/serving the green beans, remove the stem and tip of the green beans and break in half, removing any strings. Place beans in large stew pot and fill with water until beans just covered, heat until water is just boiling and par-boil beans for 5 minutes. Remove beans from boiling water immediately and rinse in cold water to stop the beans cooking. Put into large slow cooker pot and place into the refrigerator until next morning. In the morning, cut the salt pork into four pieces and place around edge of slow cooker pot. Add one cup of water and cook on low for 8 - 10 hours or until beans very tender and salt pork is thoroughly cooked. Do not stir during the cooking time, just let the flavour of the salt pork develop. Remove the salt pork from the pot and shred the remaining meat clinging to the fat. Discard fat and stir meat shreds back into the green beans. Serve while hot. Beans best 2 or 3 days after first cooking. To reheat beans, turn slow cooker on high for 1-2 hours stirring often.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The BIGGEST Boule I Ever Made

A few days ago I was reading in The Amateur Gourmet about a recipe for bread that Adam was raving about. This isn't the "no knead" bread from the NYT Food Section that everyone is taken with but rather a back to basic flour, yeast, salt and water bread that he had made because he didn't want to wait overnight to enjoy some cheese he had received in a "care package". The recipe Adam was using is from Nigel Slater's Appetite and requires some kneading (nothing technical just some smooshing and squooshing) but that is all. So, spurred on by Adam's imploring his readers to make this bread, I decided to give it a whirl. The recipe made what I swear is the biggest loaf of bread I have ever made. This thing was the size of a basketball when I put it the oven and when it came out it was a deep golden brown.

It was all I could do to not tear right into the loaf as soon as it came out of the oven but patience rewarded MBH and I with a crunchy, crusty outside and chewy inside. While watching an old Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes DVD, we enjoyed the bread with a bit of smoked salmon, brie, cheddar and a raw milk gouda from Smith's Farmstead and washed it down with a glass of 2005 Bordeaux. It was a delicious late Sunday snack!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Calm Before the Storm

Today was a crisp and cool day in Boston and, as this was the last Saturday before the holiday rush begins, MBH and I headed downtown for a little business and a lot of pleasure. While MBH met with a business partner this morning at a Starbucks shop on School Street, I wiled away the time across the street at Borders browsing cookbooks and holiday cooking magazines. After making a purchase, (I couldn't resist a cookbook called Small-Batch Baking). I headed upstairs to the cafe to drink a cup or two of coffee and read the New York Times. I then finished my Christmas shopping list and finalized what I was going to bake for my holiday goodie trays.

After his meeting ended, MBH met me and we both shopped a bit more . MBH bought me two books, the Maxwell House Coffee Drinks and Desserts Cookbook and a book on WordPress 2, for the soon to be launched site. Then it was off to the Copley Place Mall to have lunch at Legal Seafoods and for me to pick up a few things in Williams - Sonoma. While I don't completely eschew stores during the Christmas shopping season, I do avoid malls at all costs and all the Williams-Sonomas in the greater Boston area are parts of large malls. So, unless I order it online from them, I won't be getting anything from Willams - Sonoma until after Christmas. The Legal Seafoods in Copley Place Mall is our favourite location. It is tucked away in a back corner of the second floor and normally is busy but not crowded. It has a nice view across Back Bay and caters to the Boston locals unlike the location across the way at the Prudential Center which with the Boston Duck Tours and the Top of the Pru is a major Boston tourist destination.

Today, however, the restaurant was pretty crowded. Both MBH and I had the popcorn shrimp lunch; he with fries/no slaw and me with polenta and slaw. We also both had a nice Washington State riesling to wash it all down with and I had a cup of fish chowder as an appetizer. Legal Seafood's fish chowder is normally full of fish chunks but today it was full of little bits of not quite cooked onions and there seemed to be something missing. Their warm, sourdough rolls were also not as good as normal. Mine was cold and dried out. And my polenta? I love polenta. I like it fried into little croutons, baked, and as a pudding. I like it as bottom puree under a nice piece of pork or chicken. Unfortunately, the polenta at Legal Seafoods today was cold and tasted like it had been sitting uncovered so it could take on the flavours of the walk-in cooler or the plastic wrap. Thankfully the popcorn shrimp was its normal terrific self. All in all the meal was ok but not the standard we have come to expect from that particular Legal Seafoods location. I really shouldn't complain too much though, we used a gift certficate I had been given several years ago and the bill was quite small after but all the same...

After a quick stop into Williams-Sonoma where I purchased a small crock of Herbes de Provence and a tub of meringue powder, we were off for the Landmark Center and Best Buy for MBH to pick up two computer disc drives. One hour later, we were back in Cambridge and to celebrate a fine day, we treated ourselves to ice cream at Rancatore's Ice Cream. Ranc's, as it is known locally, is one of the top ten ice cream shops in Boston and run by the same family that owns Toscanini's, the ice cream store in Harvard Square that is always in the top five ice cream shops in America. The ice cream at Ranc's is full of sweet cream and inventive flavours like kulhfee (cardamon, ginger, cinnamon, chile) are the norm. MBH got his normal chocolate chunk/vanilla and I had a mix of cinnamon/nutmeg ice cream and kulhfee yogurt. It was the perfect way to top off our day.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day 4: The Big Shopping Trip

I am doing the Thanksgiving dinner shopping tonight and I can't wait. Seriously. I love to go holiday grocery shopping. During the holidays, all sorts of foods like Panettone and Turkish Delight start to make appearances at the World's Worst Grocery Store (W^2). There is this hustle to the store and everyone has cart not those wimpy hand baskets. I like to look at what other people are getting for their holiday meals. You can tell a lot about how someone celebrates the holiday by what they have in their carts. There are the people who have prepared deli platters, fruit baskets, and a fully prepared holiday meal in their cart (I'm not going to THEIR house). Then there will be the people who have two or three carts with one cart filled with two or three turkeys and another cart completely dedicated to baking supplies (I'm following them home). Last year, while doing the Thanksgiving grocery shopping, I was in line behind three people doing some shopping for a local food pantry. They were counting up cans of corn, green beans, etc. and realised they were several cans short of condensed milk. As one of the volunteers waded through the line to go back and get the errant cans of condensed milk, several shoppers reached into their carts and pulled out their cans of condensed milk and gave them to the gentleman so the volunteer wouldn't have to go back to the baking section. It was a gesture of the season, one I wish we paid more attention to other times of the year.

MBH isn't going shopping with me tonight. Last night he declared that this weekend would be the last time until January 2007 that he would step foot in a store of any kind. On a good week, he will acquiesce and go grocery shopping with me but I am running solo the rest of the year. MBH has a very set way he likes to grocery shop and absolutely WILL NOT grace the W^2 with his presence unless it is the only option for shopping. So, when he tags along with me, we go down the block to a newer version of the W^2 (same company, newer store). He likes this store because all the aisles are laid out in a right to left vertical fashion making it perfect for the way he likes to shop; up one aisle and down the next until we have gone down every single aisle; regardless of whether we have anything on the list in that aisle. He also likes this version of the W^2 because it is a straight shot from where the carts are to the cat food aisle. MBH has one job during our shopping trips, to pick out the flavours of tinned catfood that will be served to LB during the upcoming week. I'm not sure LB can taste the difference between the Friskies Sliced Turkey and Gravy and the Fancy Feast Wild Tuna in Egg Florentine but it amuses MBH to make sure LB has variety. MBH also gets to put three things that aren't on the grocery list into the cart. As a result, he has gotten very good at putting stuff on the list during the week so he can have three "bonus" items he finds during our shopping. I created the "three things" rule after realising that every shopping trip with MBH resulted in a blowing the grocery budget for the month. He thinks the rule is grand and I keep to my budget! I will miss shopping with MBH the rest of the year, he makes me laugh with running commentary and his antics in the aisles.

My Thanksgiving Grocery Shopping List

1 - box elbow macaroni
2 - Granny Smith apples
3 - Navel oranges
2 - green bananas (to ripen at home)
1 - head Iceberg lettuce
2 - Roma tomatoes
1 - 1lb bag carrots
1 - package celery
1 - medium purple top turnip
1 - 5lb bag Yukon Gold potatoes
1 - 5lb bag yellow onions
1 - 2lb bag cranberries
4 - lemons
2 - limes
1 pkg fresh thyme
1 head garlic
7 lbs fresh green beans (picked up Monday evening)
1lb salt pork
1 - 13-16lb Kosher turkey (FREE with my Turkey Points!)
1 - 5lb bag King Arthur bread flour
2 - 5lb bags King Arthur all-purpose flour
2 - bags chocolate chips
2 cans evaporated milk
1 can condensed milk
2 cans pumpkin
1lb Kosher salt
mixed olives from olive cart
1 jar Vlasic Sweet Gherkins
1 bag shell-on pistachios (not dyed funky green or red)
1 - 4lb bag of walnuts
2lbs sharp cheddar cheese
1 - 4 cup bag shredded mild chedder cheese
1 - large tub sour cream
2 dozen large eggs (brown in New England)
4lbs unsalted butter
1 lb salted butter
2 bottles of wine (one red, one white)
six pack beer (for MBH)
case of seltzer water
1 liter tonic water (G&Ts while I cook)
1 - 50ft roll of heavy duty aluminum foil
1 - 25ft roll plastic wrap
1 - XL brining bag

Update @ 8:28pm - It took me a little over an hour to finish the shopping with the exception of the green beans and the fresh thyme; which I will pick up on Monday evening. And this is what $155.72 buys you:

Thirteen grocery bags full of festive foods!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Dishes of Comfort: Cinnamon and Sugar Toast

Orchidea from Viaggi & Sapori and Ivonne from Cream Puffs in Venice are co-hosting a one-off food event called "Dishes of Comfort" where they asked food bloggers to write about a food that brings comfort, peace, serenity to the eater. This dish could be something your mother, grandmother, or other family member made you when you were little or something you discovered after you left home. I've been wracking my brain for the past few days trying to figure out what was THE comfort food from my childhood when it struck me on my way home tonight, cinnamon and sugar toast.

When I was little and sick, my mother would always make me cinnamon and sugar toast and serve it with a glass of warm Vernor's Ginger Ale. Sometimes, she would bring it to me when I was sleeping and I would wake up and there, sitting on my Raggedy Anne plate would be two lightly toasted pieces of white bread sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, the melted butter having made a glaze of the cinnamon and sugar. When I had "mono", the only thing I even wanted to eat was cinnamon and sugar toast.

Tonight, after a really long and arduous day at work, I called my mom to gripe. She answered the phone and I could tell she had a cold and wasn't feeling well. We talked for a few minutes and before I hung up, I told her I wished I lived closer to her because what she really needed was some cinnamon and sugar toast and a tall glass of warm Vernor's.

My Mom's Cinnamon and Sugar Toast

2 slices white bread with the crust on
1/4 cup of sugar
2 tablespoon of cinnamon
1 tablespoon of butter

Mix the sugar and cinnamon together. Lightly toast the two pieces of bread. After toasting, immediately spread 1/2 tablespoon butter on each piece of toast and place the 2 slices of toast together, butter sides together facing each other. Let the toast sit until butter is completely melted (about 1 minute). Pull the two pieces of toast apart and sprinkle generously with the cinnamon and sugar. Let sit for for 30 seconds to a minute. Enjoy with a nice cup of tea or drink of your choice.

Issue ONE: Is this Cheating?

A little background is necessary for the title of this post to make some sense. I think I've told you before but it bears repeating; we don't do sports in this house. Period. MBH abhors anything ball related and frankly, while I do occasionally find myself having to watch a game or two (occupational hazard) , I really don't care for team sports either. Instead, we do politics. MBH, bless his heart, is a Republican. I, on the other hand, am a card carrying member of the liberal left (a Democrat). On Friday nights, at 7:30pm, our local PBS station WGBH carries the McLaughlin Group, a debate show with four pundits, two right wingers in the form of Tony Blankley and Pat Buchanan and two lefties in the form of Eleanor Clift and Lawrence O'Donnell, who talk/shout about the big stories of the current week from the world of politics in the form of an issue debate with John McLaughlin serving as moderator/mitigator/and referee. This makes our Friday evening like movie night and fight night all rolled into one! We sometimes get take-out Chinese around the corner and then hunker down in bed to watch Eleanor and Tony go at each other. McLaughlin starts each question with a resounding "ISSUE" followed by a number signifying what issue he is on ("ISSUE ONE!) and he always ends the show with a huge, sweeping hand wave and a booming "bye-BYE". Throughout the week, MBH and I will start conversations with "ISSUE" and mimic John McLaughlin's salutation followed closely by peals of laughter or smirking. So, the title of this post is a bit of inside joke for MBH; who says I NEVER write about him.

ISSUE ONE! Is it cheating if I bake one those bake 'n serve loaves of bread? I'm feeling a bit conflicted by this because last night, instead of baking bread 100% from scratch, I baked a loaf of this type of bread. I had good intentions of baking a fresh loaf of bread and even left work early to do so but then life, in the form of MBH's car breaking down for at least the third time in as many weeks, intervened. By the time I had played moral support on the mobile, called three local rental car places, found and reserved a car for MBH (who was waiting on the side of Route 3 South for AAA during rush hour), and made sure that we had a way to pick up the rental car in the morning, it was almost 6pm. No time to make bread from scratch for our supper. So, I tossed one of these babies in a warmed oven with a pan of boiling water and three hours later? Fresh baked bread and the results were actually not that bad.

I wouldn't want a steady diet of this type of bread but, in a pinch, it will do.

Is this cheating?

And if it is, why does it taste so good right from the oven with jam.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Day 1

Did you know that Thanksgiving is only 10 days away??!! For my readers in other parts of the world, that gigantic gasp you just heard was every one of my American readers running for their calendars, inhaling loudly, then dashing for their grocery lists and recipe boxes after rummaging around looking for a pen that writes. If you haven't gotten your menu planned, you better get going....

Thanksgiving is MBH's most favourite holiday. He likes it best over Christmas, Halloween, and Groundhog Day combined. Ok, so maybe he likes the stocking part of Christmas almost as much as Thanksgiving but that is a subject for a future post. Over the weekend, MBH helped me finalise the menu for the big meal. His contributions? Turkey, macaroni and cheese, green beans slow cooked with salt pork for at least 12 hours; exactly as God intended green beans to cook if you ask my Tennessee boy. "We have to have more than that", I exclaimed. "I don't care what you add to the menu but I'm only eating those three things." I sighed and added Parker House rolls, turnip and carrot souffle, candied yams without marshmallow fluff(yuck), homemade cranberry chutney, black olives, sweet gherkin pickles, and pumpkin pie. It is only going to be the two of us and our cat, LB. And, with exception of the Parker House rolls, MBH WILL only eat the turkey, macaroni and cheese, and green beans. However, that doesn't mean I am going to let the best food holiday ever pass me by without cooking up a storm.

Tonight, when I get home from work, I will pull out the necessary recipes and put a shopping list together. Then I'll map out my battle plan where I will be the first lieutenant guiding the plan to fruition while MBH, who always plays Field Marshall, observes through heavy lenses. I'll end up shopping several times over the next few days to avoid the weekend throngs of shoppers pushing and pulling two over-flowing carts (and to pick up the two or three things that somehow didn't make it on my list). I'll pick up our turkey Friday evening on my way home from work so he can thaw for three or four days in our fridge and be ready for his brine bath on Wednesday. I'll bake over the weekend as well as make the cranberry chutney using my great-great grandmother's recipe (family joke is it was served at the First Thanksgiving). On Tuesday, I'll pick up the green beans, de-string, break, and parboil them to let them cook all day on Wednesday (they really do taste best a day or two after they have been cooked). Finally, on Thursday all I will have to do is get up, finish the Parker House rolls, make the turnip and carrot souffle, and then liberally schmear butter, kosher salt and pepper all over the turkey, shove some thyme, garlic, and bay leaves up his backside, and then pop Mr. Tom Turkey into his cooking bag for four or five hours to slow roast in a 325 degree oven, basting him every 30 minutes or so.

If everything goes as planned, somewhere between 2pm and 4pm on Thursday, November 23, our little family (LB sits at MBH's feet hoping the whole turkey carcass will magically take a suicidal header off the table and land at his paws), will sit down to a table filled with our favourite foods and give thanks for not killing each other over the past twelve months.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Retro Recipe Challenge #4: Maple Shortbread Bars

This is my first entry in the Retro Recipe Challenge hosted by Laura of Laura Rebecca's Kitchen. I'm not sure why it has taken me this long to participate. I've been lurking on both of her wonderful sites and reading the round-ups on the RRC site. I own what MBH refers to as the mausoleum of cookbook collections. I LOVE to cook from my old cookbooks so Retro Recipe Challenge seems to be a tailor made food blog event for me! The premise behind RRC is to cook retro food; the good like beef stroganof, the bad like tomato pimento and pineapple chunks in lemon Jello, and the ugly like chicken ala king on toast from a cookbook published between 1920 and 1980. This month's installment is Fall Foods and I chose to cook Maple Shortbread Bars from the 1968 edition of Better Homes and Gardens Cooking for Two.

This was a quick and easy recipe to put together; 13 minutes total prep time: 5 minutes to make the shortbread and 8 minutes to make the coconut/maple top. The result however tastes like you slaved in an oven hot kitchen all day. In other words, the perfect dessert recipe a busy housewife can throw together between loads of laundry, vacuuming, dusting, and window washing and still greet her hard working husband at the front door wearing a hot pink mini-skirt, white go-go boots, silver lucite ball necklace, and holding a martini in her hand.

This cookie bar is made in two steps. First you bake the shortbread then you spread the maple syrup and coconut mixture on top and bake it for a short time, just long enough to toast the coconut and form a caramel top.

This was a terrific tasting cookie. The shortbread was buttery and the maple syrup/coconut topping was like the frosting on a German chocolate cake. I am going to make these again, but I think I might add a layer of mini chocolate chips between the maple syrup/coconut and shortbread and then serve it warm with vanilla ice cream. I'm also going to add this bar to this year's Christmas cookie tray. In a word, this bar is yummy!

Maple Shortbread Bars
from Better Homes and Gardens Cooking for Two (1968)

1 1/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine
2/3 cup maple syrup
1 1/3 cup flaked coconut

Sift together flour and sugar. Cut in butter till mixture resembles fine crumbs. Press into an 8x8x2 inch baking pan. Bake in moderate oven (375 degrees) for 15 to 20 minutes. Combine syrup, coconut, and 1/4 tsp salt in small saucepan. Cook till coconut absorbs most of the syrup, about 8 minutes. Spread over warm shortbread; bake 10 minutes. Cool until syrup/coconut is firm but not hard. Cut into bars and cool on cookie rack.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Wine Blogging Wednesday #27: Ice Wine

In celebration of the election results, I'm participating in Wine Blogging Wednesday #27 hosted by Kitchen Chick. She chose a very appropriate theme to go along with all the desserts I've been baking lately, ice wine. Ice wine is wine made from grapes that are left on the vine to freeze. They are harvested and pressed while still frozen; resulting in a sublimely sweet wine perfect for light cheeses, desserts or to be served AS dessert. Riesling and Vidal Blanc are the most common grape used for ice wine. One other interesting fact about ice wine, it tends to be very expensive due to the strict conditions it can be made under and the limited nature of the grape availability.

Northern Michigan, home of my misspent youth, is uniquely situated geographically to produce outstanding ice wines, particularly the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas. The combination of the cold waters of Lake Michigan and the rolling hills of the peninsulas means that grapes, particularly Riesling grapes, have perfect growing conditions. When you add those legendary brutal and chilly winters with the lake effect snows you have the right conditions to make ice wine. I've sampled various bottles of ice wine from several vineyards but my two favourite are the Chateau Grand Traverse 2001 Johannisberg Riesling Ice Wine and the Black Star Farms 2002 A Capella Riesling Ice Wine.

For almost six months, a bottle of the Chateau Grand Traverse was in the back of our refrigerator. MBH would ask me, "when are you going to drink that?" To which I would reply, "I'm saving it for a very special occasion". A few weeks ago that occasion came, as I was having a rough time at work and I needed a pick me up. So, I opened the bottle and have doled out small glasses to myself as needed. The color was deep gold and the taste ever so sweet with a nice after finish of spice. It was perfect with the mellow French cheeses I'm fond of as well as creme brulee. When warmed up slightly, the wine takes on a smoked taste with a hint of peat and fruit.

The Black Star Farm A Capella was opened last night. I had made a tiramisu from the Bon Appetit cookbook to take to work tomorrow (I TOLD you was making lots of desserts). I had a little too many ladyfingers and mascarpone cheese left over and made myself a little personal tiramisu. I wanted something sweet but light to drink with it and remembered I had a bottle of the A Capella hiding on the wine cart. I chilled it slightly and poured an ever so small glass. It was pure heaven. The apricot and peach taste was a light counterpoint to the espresso and cheese taste of the tiramisu. Every time I brought the glass to my nose I could smell tropical flowers. I let the wine warm up while I was cleaning the dishes up and finished the night with one last sip. I went to bed with the taste of spice and summer on my lips.

I sure hope there is good blizzard or two in Northern Michigan this year because come next summer, I'm going to be in the market for a few more bottles of ice wine.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Cookbook Spotlight #2: Baking From My Home To Yours

When Sara at I Like To Cook and Weekend Cookbook Challenge asked me if I could find time in my busy travel for work schedule to be part of the second episode of Cookbook Spotlight, I didn't even hesitate. Of course I could find time to take part in this event. After all, I was getting a new cookbook to try several recipes from and then report back in a blog posting how I found the cookbook from a cook's point of view as well as from a manic cookbook collector's. So, it was great excitement that I came home from some place (Florida, I think...) to find a package containing Dorie Greenspan's "Baking From My Home to Yours" waiting for me. MBH had told me several days earlier in an email that I had a "heavy package" waiting for me and when I opened the package, it was indeed a heavy and big tome that awaited me. The very first thing that caught my eye? The luscious brown and white cake on the cover. "I HAVE to make that", I thought to myself. "That looks soooo decadent and rich".

I don't know what this means from a reviewers point but my flight got in at 1opm and I was home around 11pm. The next time I noticed a clock after opening the package it was almost 3AM! I had sat down where I opened the package and started flipping through the book ogling all the wonderful looking pictures of baked goodies. I wanted to make the Mocha-Walnut Marbled Bundt Cake on page 180 and then Linzer Sables on page 134. No, NO, NO, WAIT!! I really wanted to make the White Chocolate Brownies on page 110. So many wonderful treats to bake that I lamented that I could only bake two or three before I reviewed the book. Nestled snuggley in bed that night, dreams of Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookies (page 77) and Dimply Plum Cake (page 41) danced in my head. Since the next day was Saturday, I got down right down to business and selected five recipes to bake: Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins, My Best Chocolate Chip Cookies, Flaky Apple Turnovers, Caramel Topped Flan and the cover cake and picture that captured my imagination, Devil's Food White-Out Cake.

The first recipe I cooked was the My Best Chocolate Chip Cookies. I was leaving for a longer business trip on Tuesday and I always leave MBH with a refrigerator full of food and something homebaked so he doesn't miss me too much. Chocolate chip cookies are MBH's favourite cookie. Dorie's recipe calls for hand chopped bittersweet chunks, perfect for MBH who likes uneven sized chunks of chocolate in his cookies. The recipe is basically the classic recipe with the exception it calls for a bit more butter. One thing I did notice about dough as it came together was it was a bit wet and hard to handle and I ended up adding about an 1/8 cup more flour to get the dough the right consistency. My kitchen was a bit humid when I made these so that could have accounted for the need to add more flour. The various shapes of chocolate chunks made a lovely looking ball of dough and the dough was quite tasty as well.

We like really big cookies in our house. So I got about 20 huge cookies from the recipe. MBH's verdict: very nice with lots of chocolate chunks but a bit crisp for his taste. I liked the cookie quite a lot and they froze really well. I froze a dozen to take to work, where they were devoured by 10am.

The next recipe I tried was for Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins, my all time favourite muffin that I have spent quite a bit of time obsessing over at the various bakeries in Boston. I had been planning on making lemon poppy seed muffins for some time but never seemed to find a recipe that read like it would result in the perfect combination of lemon and sweet. That is until I read Dorie's recipe. As I read through the ingredients I KNEW I had found the closet recipe to my beloved Lemon Poppy Seed Muffin from Panificio. I assembled all my ingredients (Dorie is right, doing this first does make you feel like you are staring in your own show on the Food Network).

I then proceeded to make the batter. Once again, the batter was not quite the right consistency, even by the description in the recipe. I ended up having to add another 1/3 cup of sour cream to get the batter to a lumpy muffin stage. But one taste of the batter and the zing was perfect as was the sweetness. The recipe calls for you to mix the lemon zest with the sugar first to infuse the taste of the lemon with the sugar. I could taste that step. Like our chocolate chip cookies, we like our muffins big. The recipe makes 12 muffins but I used a six "Texas" muffin pan and the batter divided up perfectly. As the muffins baked there was this wonderful citrusy, lemony smell filling my kitchen. I couldn't wait for them to come out of the oven. When they did, it was all I could do to wait for them to cool. I have to admit, I skipped the frosting step. I'm not a huge frosting on my muffin type of gal but I will tell you, skipping the frosting didn't hurt the taste of the muffin any. When I tore off the top, the inside was a perfect shade of cream and the taste and texture perfect.

The poppy seeds were very evenly distributed throughout the muffin and each bite was moist and lemony. Now, when I crave a good lemon poppy seed muffin, I don't have trek all the way down to Charles Street for a fix.

I had a bag of apples on the table that I had been saving for a special recipe. That recipe turned out to be the absolute winner of all the ones I tried from "Baking From My Home to Yours", the Flaky Apple Turnovers. I almost didn't do this recipe because in the past, every turnover I have ever made meant slaving for days/hours over puff pastry and I just didn't have the time to do that. But, after reading about the "miracle" dough that was the key to these little gems, I decided what the heck. Dorie is right on every front about this dough. It DOES come together in a snap and it IS a miracle. This turnover is bar none by far the absolute best turnover I have ever made. Period. The forming is a little difficult because the turnovers are so small and the first few I made I put too much filling into but once I got the hang of working with the dough and the amount of filling, they went fast. The egg wash and sugar topping take them from pedestrian to elegant.

Now, I'm not sure if this was an omen or not, BUT while I was making these, I was listening to the Bon Appetit podcast and the episode that I was listening to was the May 16, 2006 Episode where Dorie Greenspan discusses all the ice cream she made for an upcoming issue. Just as I put the first batch into the oven they gave her plug for her new upcoming cookbook: "Baking From My Home to Yours". The results? I have never had a fruit turnover taste this sinfully good. MBH took most of them to work the next day and received reports back like "delicious" and from the president of his company, "These are FANTASTIC". I took two into the founder of my company and he came into my office and told me that I had to make these again and wondered if I could make them with cherries or plums. Yup, I'll bet this recipe will lend itself very well to just about any fruit or fruit/cheese combination you can think of. These will be my Christmas morning pastry this year. I can't wait to see my family's faces as they eat these.

The Caramel Topped Flan recipe was good and came out exactly as predicted. There isn't anything super special about the recipe but the step by step instructions for getting the caramel evenly spread on the bottom of the pan were excellent.

This type of good advice and helpful hints is characteristic throughout the book. There are easy to follow directions for all the "tricky" things and each recipe has a "Playing Around" suggestion for those of us who like to take a good recipe and use it as a base for other good things. I took my flan into work for our weekly Thursday meeting and there wasn't any left by the end of the meeting.

The last recipe I made was for the cover cake, Devil's Food White-Out Cake. This cake calls for cocoa powder, bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolate. If you like chocolate cake you are going to love this cake. The batter went together perfectly. I didn't need to add any liquid or flour. Do take the time to sift the dry ingredients together. It makes a difference and the alternating between milk/cream and dry ingredients is a classic way of making a moist cake. The cakes baked up nice and high with a nice springback.

The marshmallow frosting was a bit tricky from a timing standpoint. My eggwhites peaked about six or seven minutes before my sugar,cream of tartar and water reached 242 degrees F. But, when done, the frosting tasted just like Fluff, a super sweet marshmallow cream New Englanders, especially those of us from Boston, are fond of putting on top of ice cream, peanut butter sandwiches, and hot chocolate. I have to admit, I was skeptical at this stage. I'm not a big marshmallow fan and this frosting was like eating melted marshmallows. But, I persevered because the picture on the front of the cookbook kept calling me. The cake went together pretty easily. I did not crumble the fourth half though, opting to add it to the cake. Instead, I took the left over chunk of good Belgian chocolate from the chocolate chip cookies and grated it up and sprinkled it very generously all over the cake. After letting it set up in the refrigerator for about four hours I sliced into it.

My cake may not have looked exactly like the picture on the front but it tasted exactly like the description. The cake is moist and almost like a super fudgy brownie. The chips of semi-sweet chocolate hadn't baked into the cake so each bite has that nice texture of cake and chocolate chunk. And I was wrong about the marshmallow frosting. When I finished putting the cake together I commented to MBH that the next time I made this cake I would use a butter cream frosting but you know what, this cake just might make me like marshmallow.

DEVIL'S FOOD WHITE-OUT CAKE UPDATE (11/6 @ 10am): MBH took the remainder of this cake to work this morning. President of his Company's response: "WOW! Impressive"

A few other observations about "Baking From My Home to Yours". The recipes are fantastic and even someone who isn't an accomplished baker can follow them. That being said, it really pays to read through the entire recipe several times before starting them to make sure you understand the timing of everything and the order of the steps. While I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this cookbook to a beginning baker, I would suggest that the book is aimed towards the more advanced home baker who understands the way baking recipes go together and has enough experience with various baking techniques to feel comfortable when small problems we all have in the kitchen crop up. This is in part due to the multi-step processes that sometimes need to be addressed simultaneously, like keeping an eye on boiling sugar, water, and vanilla AND the egg whites and my experience with both the cookie dough and the muffin batter. If I had not had many years making both cookies and muffins, I would have not recognized my dough/batter that needed more flour/sour cream.

My final word; Dorie Greenspan's "Baking From My Home to Yours" has made me feel like a top notch pastry chef, cake baker, and dessert maker. I've gotten professional results from her beautiful book and I think it will continue to do so for many years to come. I can't wait to find out...

Flaky Apple Turnovers
From Dorie Greenspan's "Baking From My Home to Yours"

For the Dough:
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 sticks (12 ounces) cold unsalted butter cut into small pieces

For the Filling:
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 Fuji or Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into small chunks
3 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into small bits

For the Egg Wash:
1 large egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon of water

Sugar, for dusting

To Make the Dough: Stir the sour cream and sugar together; set aside. Whisk the flour and salt together in a large bowl, then toss the butter bits over the flour. Working with a pastry blender, two knives or your fingers, cut the butter into the ingredients until mixture resembles coarse meal. Don't worry about being thorough, it's better to have an uneven mix than an overworked dough. Switch to a fork and, using a lifting and tossing motion, gently stir in the sour cream. The dough will be very soft. Divide the dough in half. Put each half of a piece of plastic wrap and use the plastic to shape each piece into a rectangle, don't worry about size or precision. Wrap the dough and refrigerate for at least one hour or up to 2 days.

Remove one piece of dough from the fridge and roll it into a rectangle about 9 x 18 inches. The dough is easiest to work with if you roll it between sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap. If you want to roll it traditionally, make sure to flour the rolling surface. Fold the dough into thirds, like a business letter, wrap it and refrigerate it. Repeat with the second piece of dough and refrigerate the dough for at least two hours or up to one day.

To Make The Filling: Whisk the flour, sugar and cinnamon together in a large bowl. Add the apples and toss to coat.

Getting Ready to Bake: Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats. Roll out one piece of dough to a thickness of about 1/8 inch, and cut out 4 1/2 inch rounds with a large cutter or the edge of a tartlet pan. Repeat with the second piece of dough. If you'd like, you can gather the scraps together, chill them and make additional turnovers. The turnovers made from scraps will taste good but they won't be as pretty and light as the first rounders (Breadchick note: I found them to be every bit as flaky and good!) . You'll get 7 -8 rounds from each piece of dough. Place 1 to 2 tablespoons apples in the center of each round and dot with the butter. Moisten edges of each round with a little water and fold the turnovers in half, sealing the edges by pressing them together with the tines of a fork. Use the fork to poke steam holes inj each turnover, and transfer turnovers to the baking sheets. (At this point, the turnovers can be frozen; wrap them airtight when they are firm and store them for up to 2 months. Bake them without defrosting, adding a few minutes to their time in the oven.) Brush the tops of the turnovers with a little of the egg wash and sprinkle each on with a pinch of sugar. Bake for about 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front and back after 10 minutes. When done, the turnovers should be puffed, firm to the touch, and golden. Gently transfer them to racks and cool to room temperature.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Weekend Cookbook Challenge #10 Round-Up: Neglected Kitchen Gadgets

Wow Everyone! Who knew so many of us had neglected kitchen gadgets even after we swore we didn't or that there are budding comics amongst us? Well, after reading today's Weekend Cookbook Challenge round up, you will!

We had fifteen terrific entries to the Weekend Cookbook Challenge #10: Neglected Kitchen Gadgets. I want to thank each of you for participating and especially Sara over at I like to Cook for hosting this event every month and for letting me co-host, it was heaps of fun!

Now on to the Round-Up:

We'll start off with our fearless leader, Sara at I like to Cook and her yummy Panini made in her often over looked George Foreman Grill

She made two Panini; one a savory panini and the other a dessert panini. T
he first was the Mozzarella, Basil Pesto and Peperonata Panini with warm gooey cheese seen above and the second was Sara's introduction to Nutella by way of a Nutella spread between two pieces of white bread and grilled.

Sara is a Nutella convert now...

Next off in the realm of neglected gadgets we visit Ruth over at Once Upon A Feast. Ruth remembered she owned a crockpot after her daughter started talking about buying one. The last time Ruth used her poor crockpot was almost a year ago when she made crockpot lasagna. She was going to give her daughter her crockpot but now that she has used it again (and bought that great new cookbook to go with it!) maybe it won't sit in the back of the cabinet so long.

Ruth made the sticky but in a finger licking good kind of way Crockpot Peking Chicken Wings seen above.

Chrispy from Experimentation of Taste had a hard time finding a neglected kitchen gadget because she doesn't keep implements or cookbooks she doesn't use. So, she wrote instead about her newest but saved for fall implement: silicone mini loaf pans. She made the perfect the perfect fall quick bread below (along with her mini loaf pans): Ginger Pumpkin Bread.

You know, it is comforting to know that even "down under" in Australia, there are neglected kitchen gadgets lurking in drawers and cabinets. Anh at Food Lover's Journey is like most every one of us. She bought a pasta machine with visions of fresh homemade pasta dancing in her head. It was a walk by of her local pasta shop that shamed her into going home and taking her pasta machine from it's box and making the lovely looking
Fettuccini with Spicy Seafood Sauce, her favourite pasta dish.

That picture (and recipe) makes me want to run right out and buy a pasta machine...

Back on the west coast of the US, in Oregon, we find Michelle from Je Mange la Ville dusting off her immersion, hand-held blender from it's hiding place to make a delicious sounding
Curried Acorn Squash and Leek Flan that she adapted from the Williams-Sonoma Autumn Cookbook.

Unfortunately, Michelle had a digital camera malfunction and none of her final product pictures turned out. But if you read the recipe you can almost taste the curry combined with squash and leek!

On the opposite coast of the US and just across the Charles River from me here in Cambridge, Jo at Amuse Bouche used not one but TWO neglected kitchen gadgets: her chinois and food mill to make good English comfort food for her hubby, Fish Pie. Not only is her fish pie amazing looking with it's perfectly browned top but how she came up with the recipe is amazing!

She combined three recipes and little of her cooking school know-how to make a recipe I'm dying to try out.

Lis from La Mia Cucina had her gadget picked out the minute we announced our theme of Neglected Kitchen Gadget. She picked her food mill as well to make a cherished family recipe from her mom for the ultimate fall soup, Beef Vegetable Soup.

She says using the foodmill on fresh tomatoes makes all the difference for the flavour. Judging from the picture above, I would believe her.

The next stop on the tour of neglected kitchen gadgets is in the heartland of America, to Columus, Ohio where Becke of the Columbus Foodie joins us for the very first time by plugging in her unused rice cooker to make a recipe she found browsing through Recipezaar, Golden Corral Bourbon Chicken.

She says the recipe she used had too much bourbon but she found another she will try next time.

Ok, so it is getting close to Christmas and time to bake those cookies! Not only did Brilynn at Jumbo Empanadas find a neglected gadget but she had me laughing so hard reading her post that the folks in the office thought I was having some type of fit and almost called 911. Brilynn's neglected gadget is her icing gun, Ames which she used to make some wonderfully decorated Gingerbread Cookies. Not only did Brilynn give Ames a good workout on all these lovely decorated gingerbread men

But she then made sure that the cookies got a chance to go see the great white outdoors of Canada and then get warmed up by a glowing fire...

I'm swapping cookies with Brilynn this Christmas!

Leaving winter in the Northern Hemisphere to head for summer in the Southern Hemisphere, we go back to Melbourne, Australia for this month's contribution by Haalo at Cook (almost) Anything at Least Once where the theme of WCC#10 elicited a little guilt at not using a present from her sister, her waffle maker. Judging from this wonderful stack of golden Ricotta Waffles

I'll bet she doesn't let the waffle maker stay neglected.

Using our transporter we are going back to Canada for some wonderful looking Lefse made courtesy of Pepper at Frugal Cuisine. This WCC was an opportunity for Pepper to use not only left-over mashed potatoes but also a family heirloom and a time honoured family recipe for Lefse.

The next kitchen we visit is also in Canada and bilingual at Cream Puffs in Venice with Ivonne but it wasn't Ivonne who we met next to the sink but rather Monsieur Mandoline, Ivonne's once often used French mandoline. Monsieur finds himself neglected due to an interloper, her food processor. Hoping to prove his true worth, Monsieur made quick work of the butternut squash for the delicious looking Butternut Squash Gratin with Goat Cheese and Walnuts.

With results like this, let's hope Monsieur doesn't stay trapped in his wooden cabinet too long between uses.

The next entry for Weekend Cookbook Challenge #10: Neglected Kitchen Gadgets used this month's theme to not only use a neglected gadget but to get re-introduced to her kitchen! Andrea at A Small Group of Thoughtful Citizens squeaked in under the wire late last night by sending me an email telling me she was going to post but needed a little bit more time to remember where her kitchen was (just joking Andrea). She used her unused bread machine to make her grandmother's Cinnamon Rolls. And just in case those of us who only know Andrea as a crusader for worthwhile social causes think she can't actually cook, here is proof positive she does a darn fine job, apron or no apron...

And since we are on the subject of neglected bread machines, here is my entry for this month with two breadmachine offerings: whole wheat and French bread.

In our final entry for this month's WCC, Pat over at Up a Creek Without a Patl finds her apple peeler/slicer/corer about once a year hiding out in the upper regions of her kitchen cabinets. This year she put her peeler/slicer/corer to some serious work making bunches and batches and, in this case, bushels of apple recipes: Apple Chips, Apple Spice Cake, Baked Apples, an Apple Tart, and her Blushing Apple Cream Pie.

I think I understand why her peeler/slicer/corer needs the rest of the year off!

WHEW.... that completes this month's round-up for WCC#10: Neglected Kitchen Gadgets. Thanks again everyone for participating! If I missed someone, please drop me or Sara a line or post a comment here. I'll update the round-up to include you.

It was lots of fun co-hosting and I'm looking forward to next month's event. Keep your eye out on the Weekend Cookbook Challenge blog for the theme I'm sure Sara will be posting very soon. Also keep your eye out for her round-up of the next Cookbook Challenge.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A Cook Ahead of His Time

My dad is one of my biggest influences as a cook. My dad is a former Navy cook who went to chef school on the VA Plan and then went into hospital food service in the late 60’s with the idea that just because it was hospital food it should still taste like food. I grew up in his kitchen. He had a picture of me on his desk taken when I was about age four, standing in the big mixing bowl of one the Hobart mixers that his head baker could make enough bread dough in to feed the patients and staff of a 125 bed hospital. He would tell everyone who came into his office the last few years of his career, "I knew she would be a good baker because she always wanted to play in that darn mixer".

A man ahead of the ideas of the day, he would have themes like “Pancakes Any Way You Like Them All Day” or “Pizza by the Pound” in his cafeteria. He put a salad bar in the cafeteria before any other restaurant in town had one. He had a local baker who would make him four foot loaves of French bread in his huge ovens so my dad could run his “Subs by the Inch”, a once a month special he would run for the next thirty years. This special was so popular that the local police, firemen, and even mayor would stop by the hospital to buy lunch and talk with my dad about fishing, hunting, and local politics then take a sub home to their family for dinner. He made award winning potato and leek soup during the winter and hosted the largest pig roast in the area during the summer in the back parking lot of the hospital to raise money for local charities. He had a local farmer who sold him his sweet corn during the summer and his acorn squash during the fall. He had a little herb garden in his office and a kitchen garden out behind the laundry room. The local community clubs like the Elks and Eagles would hold their meetings in the hospital so they could have my dad do the lunch or dinner. Way before hospitals started doing “ala Carte” meals to the patient rooms my dad offered the service. “Just because someone is sick doesn’t mean they should have to have bad food and have to eat on the nurses schedules”. This didn’t make him popular with the various head nurses but he didn’t care. “They aren’t the ones sitting in those beds not feeling good and the least we can do for our patients is let them eat when they feel like it.”, he would explain whenever the head administrator would ask my dad to work with the nurses on a schedule.

His proudest moment during his tenure at the hospital was when the newspaper from the big city two hours away named his hospital cafeteria one of the top ten restaurants in the three county area five years in a row in the early 80’s. I had my first taste of curry when I was in middle school at the hospital cafeteria while having lunch with my dad. Until about five years ago, the hospital cafeteria was the only place anyone in town could get Indian food without driving two hours. He had one of the doctors from India show him how to make a good curry because he didn’t want to serve something that wasn’t “authentic”. My favourite memory of my dad at work was when he got into a shouting match on the phone with the head hospital bean counter one afternoon when I was visiting his office after school. The head bean counter, who wanted my dad to start using more canned vegetables because they were cheaper, was telling my dad he wouldn’t sign off on his purchase orders to a local supplier. My dad ended the argument by offering to “discuss it over lunch the next day”. The next night over dinner, I asked how his lunch with Mr. So-and-so was. He smiled and said “Well, kiddo, here’s the story. I made a stir-fry that I know is Mr. So-and-so’s favourite lunch. We normally make it with fresh corn, green beans, carrots, and almonds. Today I made it with all canned vegetables. When he tasted it and asked what was wrong with the food, I told him I was saving him money by using canned vegetables.” Mr. So-and-so never again asked my dad again to save him money.

When my dad wasn’t working, he would putter around our kitchen toying with recipes. He would take well-known cookbooks and figure out how to make a recipe that makes six to eight servings make one hundred servings. It was from him that I learned allspice is used to boost the flavour of cinnamon and nutmeg in pumpkin pie and the sage in stuffing but if you use too much of it, the taste of the food gets bitter. “It isn’t just a matter of multiplying the amounts, Pumpkin,” he said. “It is understanding how one ingredient blends with the others. That is why you add additional spices slowly and in small amounts; tasting often”. That is a lesson I have never forgotten.

My dad retired in April this year after 35 years at the same hospital. Things had changed the last few years. A larger chain of hospitals had bought his hospital. A few years ago, the hospital administrators had brought in a food service company to save money on day-to-day operations and kept my dad on as an advisor and to manage the corporate functions held at the hospital. They put an old school nutritionist who believed that food should be healthy first and tasty second in charge of the patient food and cafeteria. The head corporate offices in Chicago ordered all the food. All day ala Carte service went away and so did the kitchen garden. The hospital’s cafeteria fell out of the top restaurants in the area lists and doctors, nurses and visitors started to go across the street to the national chain restaurants that opened a few years ago for their meals. This last year my dad would just sit in his office reading fishing and travel magazines waiting out his retirement. On his last day at work, three former mayors, six retired police and fire chiefs, a down state food critic and over 200 current and former employees held a huge retirement party for my dad. They gave him a plaque and the obligatory gold watch but my dad’s favorite retirement present was a bronzed and framed copy of one of the “Top Ten Local Restaurants” list all the head nurses gave my dad. They still remembered all the ice cream sandwiches my dad made sure were in their floor freezers and the homemade strawberry shortcake my dad would have delivered during the summer to the nurse’s lounges in the middle of the night.

My dad now lives in New Mexico. I talked to him a few nights ago as I was cooking dinner but I could hear pots and pans clanging in the background. “What are you doing Dad?” I asked. “Well kiddo, I’m trying to figure out how to make my potato and leek soup in a smaller quantity than for 200. And you should see the hot peppers down here. They are huge!” Even in retirement, with my dad some things never change...