Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving with Liz

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My friends, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, as I know we surely did. I just wanted to share several recipes I made at Thanksgiving time and I'm grouping them in one post, as I prepared these for Ole Sweetie Pi's sweet and lovelyl daughter, Liz.

For the first time, Ole Sweetie-Pi's youngest daughter, Liz (aka Lizard, an unpleasant nickname for this most charming young woman) shared the meal with us. We were just so delighted and excited to have her and were literally giddy with pleasure (picture a 60+ male being giddy, grins, but I swear Ole Sweetie-Pi was!). Much to do, much ado, as the beloved Liz is allergic to animals (can you say we have five cats and cat fur hidden in every imaginable nook and cranny in the house and you can see the fur fall from their little bodies as they brush past you, grrrr!) as well as multiple food allergies. The poor darling, I don' t know how she manages so well. I'd have a quivering bottom lip and feel quite put upon.

It's a whole new world when one has to be gluten free, soy free, egg free, corn free, dairy free, no fresh apples, plums, almonds, peanuts, white potatoes, beef, and I forget what all else, but the list does go on for a bit. Thank heavens she can at least have turkey and sweet potatoes, I thought! And the menu for her was built from there.

For a little snack, as dinner seemed to be running late, I had made some cashew butter. I went online and found an Emeril recipe, and served this delicious butter on rice crackers (purchased at a health food store). If you like the taste of peanut butter you'd probably like this as the flavors are similar. It's easy to make and so much less expensive than buying it. And Liz tells me it was better than anything she's ever purchased.

You can double click on any of the pictures to enlarge them.

Cashew Butter
(pictured lower right)

2 cups unsalted, roasted cashews
2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar, optional (I used honey and kept adding it until I found a balance I liked)
In a food processor or blender, combine the nuts, 2 tablespoons of the oil, the salt, and the sugar, if desired. Process on high speed for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula and process to desired smoothness. Taste for sweetness and seasoning, adjusting to personal taste. Transfer to a bowl to use as a dip, spread, or in other recipes, or place in an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.

My Notes: I used my blender, and either my blender is old and not very powerful or I should have roughly chopped up the cashews first to make them easier to blend. I definitely needed more oil to make a smooth butter, but can't tell you how much more I added. I just eyeballed it, frequently stopping to scrap it down, adding drops at a time and continued to blend it until it looked right. Oil does rise to the top after it sits a bit; it just has to be stirred back in before using it.

No white potatoes for Liz but she can have rice. I made my favorite rice recipe, adapted from Recipezaar. I didn't take a picture (too much going on, tripping over beleaguered and pitiful cats and constantly "dirty" hands and didn't want to goop up my camera) but the only changes for this recipe was I added a good half teaspoon of ground cumin and a finely diced shallot, and omitted the butter. Liz and I loved it; you may recall that Ole Sweetie-Pi has the rice-lice association (pulling a big frown here).

Vegetables weren't really an issue, just nothing creamed or with cheese, of course. I did make my favorite Thanksgiving onions which I will post another time because they deserve to be spotlighted.

Dessert presented its own challenges. I made the traditional apple and pumpkin pies for me and Ole Sweetie-Pi, loaded up with all the bad stuff of course, but boy they were good. But for Liz? Do you know how hard it is to find something that sounds delicious but doesn't have gluten, dairy, soy or egg in it? I spent hours looking on the Internet, and finally adapted this recipe.

Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Egg Free Pumpkin Custard (pictured on the left hand side)

1½ cups of rice milk
4 tablespoons tapioca (next time I'll grind it fine)
1/2 teaspoon xantham gum
1½ cups of solid-pack canned pumpkin or cooked pumpkin
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl, whisk together the rice milk, tapioca, and xanthum gum until smooth and then the remaining ingredients, stirring well to combine. I used an 8 x ll inch baking dish and baked the custard for about 45 minutes. The custard never became what I would call "firm" but I don't think it should be; after all it is a custard and should have some jiggle to it. Cool before scooping out and serving.

I took a spoonful of this and this really tasted pretty good. Liz said she really liked it. The texture is a little different because of the use of xanthum gum and the tapioca (and I definitely should have finely ground the tapioca as it left little "pebbles" in the custard, grins) but it did set up nicely. The rice milk does not have a big flavor, so the flavor of the spices showcased nicely. Now if we could only find a dairy free, soy free whipped topping, it would be perfect!

Lastly, for lunch on Friday, because I had to work, I wanted to slow cooker something for Liz, so she could have something warm and wonderful. She mentioned that she loves spicy foods and has a great fondness for chilis. Well, as luck would have it I found a delicious butternut chili recipe that all of us enjoyed (even Ole Sweetie-Pi who swears he doesn't like vegetables!). Will wonders never cease? I arose at 3:30 a.m., chopped up some vegetables, opened some cans, and set it in the slow cooker. At 6:30 I came downstairs (I am lucky enough to work full time from home) to turn the slow cooker on, and viola, lunch was in the works.

Butternut Chili(pictured upper right)

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon each cumin, chili powder and ginger
1 medium red or sweet onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, diced
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, diced
2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed
3 cups vegetable broth
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes
1/4 cup diced, canned jalapeno peppers, drained
2 14-oz. cans black beans, rinsed, drained
1 14-oz. can white Northern beans, rinsed, drained
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar

Drizzle the olive oil in the bottom of the cooker; add the garlic and spices and stir to combine.
Add the remaining ingredients. Gently stir with a wooden spoon so that you don't mush up the beans. Cover and cook on low for five to six hours.

I took out a chunk of squash and pierced it for tenderness with the point of a sharp knife. Once the knife easily pierced the squash, the chili was done.

I served this without lime, but I think a nice splash of lime at the end would have been a perfect addition and was probably the flavor that I felt was lacking in an otherwise healthful and flavorful chili. A dollop of sour cream would have been excellent as well (sorry Liz!).

Sweetie-pi with his youngest daughter, Liz. What a pair!

Cashew Butter on Foodista

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bean, Kale, Linguica Soup ~ A Spin on Portuguese Kale Soup

The first time I had Portuguese kale soup was about 35 years ago, when my husband and I spent our honeymoon on Cape Cod (Massachusetts). It was the soup du jour of the many restaurants we visited, and once I discovered this hearty and satisfying soup, I ate it du jour; I just couldn't seem to get enough of its spicy broth, brimming with beans, vegetables and garlicky linguica.

I wasn't going to post this soup, even though it's a personal favorite. I have a recipe from one of my local Cape Cod cookbooks that says their recipe is "authentic" and that is the measuring stick I gauged my soup against. But then like homemade chicken soup, is there one definitive recipe. No, they all are; the same, but different. So, I will not call my recipe an authentic Portuguese kale soup, but certainly in spirit, it's a close cousin.

Pretty much I like a hard and fast recipe to follow, and have great angst over swapping ingredients, but soups invite personal interpretation. I have made this recipe so many times, I do not measure the amounts anymore, and that's the way it is with most homemade soups like this, don't you agree? I'll give you my best guesstimates, the rest is personal preference.

Bean, Kale, and Linguica Soup

8 ounces dried white beans ** (rinsed, drained, soaked overnight)
8 cups chicken broth, more or less depending on how brothy you like your soup
3 carrots peeled and cut into discs
2 large onions, chopped
1 bunch of kale, washed under running water, then roughly chopped, removing the hard stems
1 pound linguica sausage, cut into discs
1 tablespoon vinegar
(Diced potatoes, celery, which I do not include)

Essentially, it's throw all the ingredients in a large stock pot and cook, covered, over medium heat until the beans are done, 45 minutes to an hour. Test a bean for doneness. Add the kale and once the kale is done, soup's on. The kale may have to be added in batches, depending on how large your stock pot is, but it will cook down (the way spinach does). You'll want the kale soft, but not mush.

Thinking of spinach, if you don't like kale, spinach is good. I think you could also use endive.

If you don't have linguica sausage, kielbasa would make a nice substitute.

**If you don't want to bother with soaking the beans overnight, there's no rule that says you can't buy the white beans in a can, rinse and drain, and save all that soaking time, which will also reduce your cooking time. Historically, I break with tradition and buy the dried beans that are labeled a 17-variety mix, following the soaking directions on the back of the package.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Buttermilk Scones

I so enjoy a nice breakfast; it can help set the tone for the entire day. On the weekends I like to have a little something special, luxuriate over it with piping hot coffee and chatter away with my Ole Sweetie-Pi. Today the something special was scones.

I thought I didn't like scones as the ones I had in the past were just glorified biscuits with dried fruit tossed in for color. I like biscuits, don't get me mislead you into thinking otherwise (chicken gravy and biscuits, yum yum!!), but scones sound so romantic and biscuits sound, well, provincial. Little did I know that scones do not have to be like biscuits; they can have a quality that is uniquely and deliciously their own.

I have several favorite scone recipes, and this buttermilk scone is included. I originally found the recipe in The 150 Best American Recipes cookbook, by Fran McCullough & Molly Stevens and was found it on line at the Joy of Baking website. These scones are voluptuous and beautiful. They are tender, sweet, flaky (somewhere between biscuit-y and cakey), buttery rich, and do not need any additional adornment.

Sweetie-Pi and I both agreed, these are good!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Refrigerator Potato Rolls

Growing up, bread was served at virtually every meal. It was the store-bought, squishy kind, but it was there, slices piled high on a plate with homemade butter beside it. When dining out, it was customary to have a bread basket of crusty rolls or the soft fluffy rolls served as part of the meal.

Nowadays, with all the anti-carb hype, bread has lost its status as a mealtime staple. Even here we have bread primarily for French toast or the occasional sandwich; we rarely see bread baskets in restaurants. Times do change. Yet, the much beloved tradition of homemade rolls at the holidays is still very much alive. At holidays, my mother always made homemade rolls, usually cinnamon rolls, which were my favorite (and to this date, I cannot make them as good as I remember hers to be). I cannot consider a holiday or family gathering without homemade bread; it's ingrained.

The rub, though, is multi-tasking cooking. I have a wee Victorian with just barely enough room in to change my mind. When cooking and baking a big meal, space and time is a premium commodity. Sure, I can bake cakes or pies the night before, have the vegetables peeled and ready to be cooked, get my slow cooker involved for slower cooked mashed potatoes to free up a burner for the half dozen different vegetables and sauces I am wont to prepare. It seems no matter how much I do in advance, there is always a last minute rush to get everything hot on the table at the same time.

Especially the rolls. They have to be hot. I want to split one open, see the steam still rising, and the butter melting and spilling out. The thing with bread (and especially rolls because now you have to take the time to form them into shapes) is that they take precious time. Unless you make refrigerator rolls, of course.

I found these perfectly delightful rolls on My Kitchen Cafe. Melanie swears these are perfect and her absolute favorite to date. After trying them for myself, I think these are indeed excellent. These golden globes are beautiful to behold and toothsome (having a bit of a chew to them). I didn't try them as a refrigerator roll because I didn't plan far enough in advance to be able to bake the next day, but potato rolls make an excellent refrigerator roll. (As a matter of fact, my cats also liked them; they broke into my bag and bit into every single one that I had left over, naughty cats!) These rolls will be part of our Thanksgiving celebration this year.

Perfect Dinner Rolls

1 1/4 cups warm water (100-110 degrees Fahrenheit)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup instant potato flakes (instant mashed potatoes)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 egg, lightly beaten for glazing

In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the water, oil, sugar and yeast, and allow the yeast to dissolve.

In a separate large bowl, add the flour, potato flakes (instant mashed potatoes), and salt. Stir to combine the ingredients.

Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring as you do so, until well combined. Continue to stir until the dough all comes together.

Then on a lightly floured surface, knead the dough, about six to eight minutes. This dough has a rough feel to it (because of the potato flakes) so it will not have the smooth silky feel of other non-potato doughs, even after eight minutes of kneading, but it will loose its shaggy appearance or an under-kneaded dough.

Transfer dough to a lightly greased bowl and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about an hour and a half.

After the dough has risen, deflate it by punching it down. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. For the pieces into balls, either by cupping your hands and rolling it on a smooth, unfloured surface. Here's a U-Tube link that really explains it better than I can.

As the balls are formed, transfer them to a parchment-lined or lightly greased rimmed baking sheet (aka jelly roll pan). Once all the rolls are formed, cover lightly with greased plastic wrap (I usually tent with aluminum foil because I don't want to risk the wrap sticking to the dough and deflating the dough when I remove the wrap). If you are making the rolls for immediate use, allow the dough to rise in a warm area until doubled, about one hour.

If you are making the rolls for the following day, do not let them go through this second rise. Instead, cover them with the greased plastic wrap and place directly in the refrigerator. Take the rolls out 2 hours before baking to allow them to come to room temperature and complete the second rise.

Beat the egg, and with a pastry brush glaze the tops of the rolls.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and bake the rolls for 15 minutes, or until a beautiful golden brown.

This recipe makes 12 ample-sized dinner rolls.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Stuffed Meat Loaf

Who says meat loaf isn't company worthy. Let me assure you that when it's a meat loaf stuffed with savory, cheesy, vegetable goodness, it certainly is. I've been eying this recipe in Mario Batali's Molto Italiano for some time and finally with the cooler weather when heartier meals are more welcomed, I decided to put this together. I won't kid you, this meat loaf takes a little bit of time to put together, but it's not difficult. This was my first time putting it together and it probably took me an hour's preparation. Next time, because I know what to expect, the time will be much shorter. Plus, this is something that can be prepared earlier in the day and put in the refrigerator until you're ready bake it.

Let's start with the ingredients.

Stuffed Meat Loaf

1 pound ground lean pork
1 pound ground lean beef
2 cups, plus 3 tablespoons, fresh bread crumbs
1 cup pecorino Romano cheese, grated
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
salt and pepper to taste

8 ounces baby spinach, stems removed, washed dried (I used frozen spinach, defrosted in the microwave, and removed excess water), blanched
2 carrots, cut lengthwise into about 6 slices each, and then boiled until just tender
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
6 slices Prosciutto di parma

2 sprigs rosemary (I used a couple teaspoons of dried)
1 cup water

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Putting It All Together

In a large bowl, combine the pork, beef, 2 cups of bread crumbs, pecorino Romano, eggs, salt and pepper. Using your impeccably clean hands, mix gently but throughly. Cover and refrigerate.

In the meantime, either blanche your fresh spinach in a salted boiling water, dipping in the leaves just until they're wilted. Dry on paper towels or spin dry in a salad spinner. Add the carrot slices to the still boiling water and cook for about ten minutes, drain, and set aside.

Combine the 3 tablespoons of flour with 3 tablespoons of bread crumbs. Dust your work surface with the mixture. (Here is where I parted company with Mario's directions. I used a long sheet of tin foil because I wanted to use my tin foil to help me roll the meat loaf in the next steps.)

Pat the meat mixture into a thick rectangle, about 16 inches by 6 inches on the dusted work surface. (I use a ruler specifically reserved for cooking.) Lay the spinach leaves over the meat, leaving a half-inch border on the short sides.

Lay the carrot slices over the spinach, lengthwise down the rectangle.

Add the prosciutto and the cheese. ( I forgot to take a picture of the cheese, but I think you have the idea.)

Now, starting from the long side, roll the meat up as if it were a jelly roll. Using the tin foil, simultaneously lift the two opposite long ends and gently turn and roll the raised edge to the inside. You'll have to run your hands down the length of the cylinder to help shape it and keep it tight. Repeat until the roll is complete.

Ta dah! You might want to give it just a little extra pat and make sure that the seam is pinched together.

Add one cup of water to the bottom of your broiler pan and the rosemary sprigs.

Now, because you were clever enough to use a sheet of tin foil as your work surface, you can cradle and lift the entire rolled loaf onto your broiler pan rack and gingerly roll the roll onto the rack so that it doesn't break apart.

I had to put my loaf on diagonally as it was too long for the broiler. Pour 1/2 cup of extra virgin oil oil over the entire length of the loaf.

Bake for approximately 1 hour at 400 degrees Fahrenheit or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. I checked at the end of one hour, and the internal temperature of my loaf was 180, so it was probably slightly overdone. If you have an insta-read thermometer, I'd start checking at 45 minutes.

Look at that golden crispy crust on this meat loaf. The house smelled absolutely sensational as it was baking. Five cats and an Ole Sweetie-Pi just couldn't stay out of the kitchen. My mouth was watering the whole time.

To remove from the rack, you'll need a thin spatula to release the underside of the meat loaf from the pan. I didn't have any real issue, and was able to move the entire loaf without breaking it. The pan juices made a nice gravy; I deglazed the pan, added some additional seasoning and thickening. Oooh, this was good.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Spinach and Onion Couscous

I was out grocery shopping the other day and picked up a big jar of tri-colored couscous. This is a fairly new discovery for me, but one which I've enjoyed, especially in this recipe. It makes a quick, different, and delicious side dish, faster than potatoes or pasta, and equally as versatile. I think the first time I had even heard of couscous was on the old the Galloping Gourmet show (remember Graham Kerr?) and long since then associated couscous with being gourmet, ergo out of my skill set. I forget now which TV chef showed me I could make it, but once I saw how easy it is, couscous has been in my pantry every since.

As my groceries were being rung up, the cashier looked at the bright specks of yellow, white and orange, turned the jar to face me, and said, "What is this?" "Couscous," I said absently, trying to organize my groceries on the conveyor belt. (I like my dairies to be together, the meats together, canned items, together, etc. No mixing and matching, please.) "Yes, but what is it?" she asked again. "I'd was wondering the same thing," the lady in line behind me said.

I started to give an encyclopedic description by saying it's pasta, often associated with Africa, made with semolina flour, and changed my mind. "You know how pasta comes in different shapes, right?" Nods and noises of affirmation followed. "Well, couscous is like little pasta seed pearls. At it's simplest, add hot chicken broth, wait five minutes, and you have pasta."

And yes, it is really pretty much that simple. This side dish is subtle in flavor (as pasta sans tomato sauce tends to be) and relies on the added ingredients to give it texture, flavor and color. No surprise, Ole Sweetie-Pi won't go near this (won't even try it) as he has that infuriating looks like rice-lice thing going on, even though he knows he loves pasta, spinach and onions. **Sigh**

I found this recipe on Recipezaar.

Spinach and Onion Couscous

1 medium onion chopped
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 14.5 ounce can chicken broth
1 10-ounce package chopped, frozen spinach
1 10-ounce package couscous
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup toasted pecans

In a saucepan, cook and stir onion and garlic in hot oil until tender.

Add the broth and spinach; cook and stir frequently until the spinach thaws.

Bring mixture to a boil and stir occasionally.

Add in couscous; stir to combine.

Cover, remove pan from heat, and let stand 5 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

Add remaining ingredients; stir to combine.

Serve immediately.

Now at this same grocery store, on a different day, as I was checking out, the bagger was a young woman. She was wrestling with a medium sized bottle, trying to decide which bag to put it in. She read the label, looked at me, and said "What is vanilla extract?"

My dear fellow bloggers, if ever you think what you do doesn't matter, that this is just a hobby, a place to store recipes, I beg to differ.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cranberry Chutney

I truly do like that well-known cranberry jelly that comes out in a big whoosh from the can. That ruby-colored jelled cylinder has been a Thanksgiving tradition in the familial home for as long as I can remember and there is still, on different occasions, a time and a place for it in my pantry.

However, this is now one of my cranberry traditions at Thanksgiving and New Years. Do not confuse cranberry chutney with cranberry jelly or cranberry sauce. It would be akin to comparing lightening with a lightening bug. Really~it's that big of a difference in flavor. This chutney has big flavor and texture. There's tart from the cranberries, sweet from the sugar, heat from the ginger and cayenne, and lots of texture from the walnuts and the few whole remaining cranberries. As I said, there's a lot going on here.

This is a good keeper; it will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator if stored in an air-tight container. This makes a fair amount, maybe 2 1/2 to 3 cups or so, so if you wanted this would make a terrific little hostess gift in those adorable half pint canning jars.

And do you want to talk about turkey sandwich?! Oh my. Turkey, stuffing, cranberry chutney, maybe a little mayo, and we're talking something good!

This is easy to do, simply put all the ingredients in a medium sized pan, cook on low, stir occasionally. Let it cook, allow the flavors to meld and you're loving this.

Cranberry Chutney
(from Best of the Best from New England)

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons vinegar
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup nuts (almonds or walnuts, medium to finely chopped)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt (I used finely minced fresh garlic)
2 cups cranberries (rinsed and sorted)

Combine all your ingredients in a medium-sized sauce pan. The cranberries will burst as they are cooking so you may want to use a long-handled spoon to stir to avoid being splattered. Sugar burns hurt (believe me!). Cook over low heat or until thick, stirring occasionally. Let cool completely before serving, storing any extra in an air tight container. Will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.

This is how mine looked after only 20 minutes of cooking. The chutney held its shape well in the spoon, and from experience I knew it would thicken even further after it cooled. It's possible that the low heat on my stove may not be as low as the heat on yours so you'll have to use some judgment as to when to take it off the heat.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Slow Cooker Ginger Orange Chicken

I like citrus and chicken together; they have a natural affinity for each other, each providing a venue to compliment the other.

Ole Sweetie-Pi and I are battling the doggone cold that seems to be going around and the last thing I wanted to do was stand around and fuss with cooking. So out comes my slow cooker to rescue me.

I saw this recipe on the Kraft's Food website and decided to try it. I'll reprint the recipe as they have it and put my minor changes in parenthesis. We liked this; it has a pretty assertive orange flavor because of the marmalade, and it's a bit spicy from the generous use of ginger and the pinch of red pepper flakes.

Slow Cooker Ginger Orange Chicken

1/2 cup KRAFT Original Barbecue Sauce (I used a Thai sesame ginger teriyaki sauce)
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup orange marmalade
3 Tbsp. soy sauce (omitted because of the teriyaki sauce)
8 bone-in chicken thighs (3-1/2 lb.), skin removed (I used boneless, skinless thighs, removing as much visible remaining fat as possible)

Stir barbecue sauce and flour in small bowl with wire whisk until well blended. Add all remaining ingredients except chicken; mix well.

Pour sauce mixture evenly over chicken in slow cooker. (Do not stir.) Cover with lid.

Cook on LOW for 3 to 5 hours. Serve chicken topped with the sauce.

Though it's not obvious in the photograph, my chicken was falling apart at the end of five hours, so I think even on low my slow cooker may run a little hot. (Once I saw how falling apart the chicken was, I used a scoop to serve up a couple of whole thighs for you.) I probably should have checked this at four hours, but I read that every time you open the lid on the slow cooker you need to add 30 minutes to the cook time. I have no idea if that's true or not, but I'm willing to pass along yet another urban legend, grins.

This makes a lot of sauce which goes great on broccoli and would be equally good on plain rice.