Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Holiday Season Food Firsts

Egg drop soup. Needs some crunch on top.

Garlic and herb goat cheese, caramelized red onion chutney, and smoked salmon on naan.

Homemade mayo. Tastes better than the jarred stuff. But doesn't keep long. This is all prep (plus dried cherries not pictured) for tuna salad.

Smoked salmon, cream cheese, and capers on crackers.

Thought it would be fun to make citrus lollipops. Not so much. Pain in the ass. Burned the crap out of the sugar first go. Sputtering, not mess. And these pink fleshy molds are kind of grody.

Wrapping them was fun and they look all pretty in this presentation. Tastes good, but candy itself needs to be harder. I brought the mixture to 300 as instructed, but maybe took off too soon. Baking and candy-making is so exact, I'm just not good at that; I'm more of an improvisor.

I've made sugar cookies before, with a recipe of my Mom's. This once is from The Kitchn. Lemon zest in the batter. Nice. Cream cheese frosting. MMMMM.

Holiday Brunch for Friends

Instead of giving objects as gifts for a few friends this year, I made brunch. All told is was a 6 hour process between shopping, setting the table, cooking, enjoying the long luxurious meal together, and cleaning up. I enjoyed it all immensely, and my friends seemed to, as well. Most of the meal elements were firsts for me, and there weren't any complete disasters, but a few things could have been better.

Decided to put all the food out at once, so we wouldn't have to get up or deal with a buffet. Eventually the wine bottles got to the table. Grazing included baguette slices scattered on the table, with oil and vinegars (mango and black currant), mixed olives, cashews, and various cheeses. The cheese labels are porcelain and were a gift from my sister. Love them.

The main meal included a walnut, pear, and blue cheese salad with a balsamic vinaigrette. And a baked egg with spinach and feta. One of my friends is a vegetarian, so I put a big bowl of crispy pancetta on the table for us meat eaters to sprinkle over the egg bake or anything else. Clearly I cooked the egg yolk to death. Kind of gross looking.

The olive oil and vinegar, next to the milk tarts, were so pretty and festive. And I served it all on my Grandma's china. The tart pans were also a gift from my sister. The crust was easy to make, but I got it way too thick in the pans. I'm just so heavy-handed; baking of any kind is a struggle for me. The milk pudding filling was delicious, and even better topped with pomegranate seeds and crushed pistachios.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

A Few of My Favorite Things

Beautiful book. Stunning photos. Each section is a complete meal, served family style. Italian mostly. She is clear how to mix and match side dishes. Lovely personal stories about the dishes and meals. She ran several restaurants for several years, but forgot the joy of cooking at home for family and friends. This book represents her homecoming and getting back to the reason for cooking in the first place. Food for the people you love.
I love these pots and pans! My God, for $50, it was worth the risk since I looked at no reviews, just purchased randomly as I floated through the IKEA aisles. They are heavy bottomed and cook evenly. I just need to remember to use a pot holder to grab them! I also learned that when describing a cookware set, a "piece" can mean a LID. Note to self. 

I love my epicurean cutting board. They are made of a fiber composite. Super sturdy, don't stain, and don't seem to show knife marks. I'm slowly weeding out all plastic from my kitchen. I still have some for food storage, but even that is migrating to glass. These cutting boards aren't cheap, but I found mine at TJ Maxx. TJM or Marshall's always have discounted designer kitchen stuff; always worth a browse! 

Got to my local library for the first time in MONTHS. Went straight to the cookbook section. Came across this peach. I had forgotten how much I adore DK books. Their books are straightforward, gorgeous photography on white backgrounds, meant to educate the reader. This book covers different areas of the Mediterranean from the point of view of one cook,  Sarah Woodward. Hardback. I hope to cook through this book next summer with fresh seasonal ingredients, much like Julie Powell cooked through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. OK, I'll admit it, I read Powell's book recently as well, Julie and Julia, and watched to movie (again). Gotta love Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci, right?

Here she is, isn't she sexy? This 9-cup food processor was a birthday gift from my brother. He's the bomb. And totally into cooking right now, too so this is all good times all in the family to mash up two 70s sit coms. I had survived thus far with a MINI food processor, having to make things in batches. And NOW, WOW what CAN'T this machine do? The first thing I made was the turkey noodle dish; I sliced carrots, celery and onions by shoving them down through the top disc. SO SATISFYING. I'm just getting started, watch out!

I've barely cracked this open. Noticed it on Amazon as I was ordering the Mediterranean book. This one is also a DK published book. Large, heavy, paperback, slick, yummy. It seems to be the Bible of cooking, at least in identifying ingredients. I will learn a ton from this book, I know. Thrilling!

Food Firsts

Occasionally I'll post recent recipes or techniques I've tried for the first time. Experiments in the studio kitchen that either really worked or really didn't. I didn't include the disastrous rolls I made at Thanksgiving. I was so mortified I immediately threw them in the trash, not even to the birds! I need to learn from my mistakes. It's turning out that I'm making 2-3 new dishes per week. And as I go, I make new versions of comfortable dishes. For instance, I cooked with leeks for the first time today. I put them in a baked egg frittata dish; also new to the eggs were buttermilk instead of regular milk or cream. This version was DIVINE. The best egg dish so far! So here are a few new firsts for me...

Baked egg. Layer of homemade tomato sauce garlic, smoked paprika. Layer of mozz. Cracked egg. Bake 12-15. Add parm. Broil until golden. Sprinkle with chives. Small and cooked in a ramekin. I have four of these, so would be good for a brunch dish with a few friends.

Mediterranean trifecta. I've made all of these delectable dips before, but never all three in one day. I got a brand new large food processor, so wash chomping at the bit to break it in. Chopped the cucumbers in the tzatziki by hand, but made hummus and tapenade in the food processor. My hummus is still not as creamy as I want it, even though I spent 20 minutes taking the husks off the garbanzo beans. Lately my favorite dipper is everything thin pretzel chips. But these are too salty with the tapenade, so I got some baked wheat thin crackers. Perfect.

When I was recently on vacation in Taos, the adobe had a television with Direct TV. Ahh, cable. I haven't had it in years, so overindulged in the Food Network. I watched a cook smacked the seeds out of a pomegranate, and knew I had to try it. I'm already addicted to Pom juice, as I add a splash to my gin martinis. So I bought just one pomegranate, cut it in half on the "equator", turned a half over, and smacked it all around with the wooden spoon. As the flesh loosened, it released most of the seeds. Then I turned it inside out, and the rest popped out or were at least accessible for my fingers. Not much juice; no wonder a tiny bottle of Pom juice is so expensive. I use the seeds in plain Greek yogurt for breakfast, adding a bit of honey or brown sugar. Fantastic. I love the crunch of the seeds, and the burst of juice as I bite down on them. YES.

I'm very tentatively starting to bake. The dinner roll debacle at Thanksgiving was pretty devastating, so I thought I start simply. Soda bread has an interesting history. A friend shared this site with me: Check it out. Soda bread doesn't use yeast, so takes zero kneading. It's dense but tasty. All traditional soda breads only use these ingredients: flour, baking soda, buttermilk, and salt. That's it! I admit, I didn't eat this up, but that's typical for my digestive system these days. I just can't eat much bread. It was essentially my gateway to overeating before surgery, so I have no desire to head back down that road again. But I want to be good at baking bread. I might do well making more airy breads, like baguettes. There's the next one! I have to admit, I got to jonesing for these breads after watching Paul on the Great British Baking Show Masterclass episodes. LOVE THESE. Great fun.

Paul and his soda bread. LOL.

Best thanksgiving leftover soup ever. Turkey, shrimp. Carrots onion celery. Broth. Noodles. Sesame oil, Thai chili jam, green onions, celery leaves. I've made chicken noodle soup, but I was proud of this because I saved so many leftovers and transformed them into a totally different dish. It's like the greatest creative challenge to NOT throw food away, but to repurpose it. Too many households throw too much food away, it's absolutely sinful. I'm feeling guilty right now that I threw away the turkey carcasses. Now I know I could have cooked those down and made my own broth. Live and learn, people!

Thanksgiving for 12

First time hosting. The Saturday after Thanksgiving. First time Lance's Mom has met my family. 8 adults and 4 kids. The kids made the place tags. Worked on the menu and grocery list for weeks. Got my stove fixed just in time for this feast!

A few months ago I got a subscription to Food and Wine Magazine. Recipes are from there, primarily. But adapted.

From Melissa Clark:
Mustard and Rosemary Turkey. Didn't happen. Hers were roasted in pieces on a sheet. For my first go I needed to go whole bird.

Port and Black Pepper Gravy. Tasted great, looks disgusting. Kind of grayish-purple. No wonder there wasn't a photo in the magazine.

Mashed Potato Casserole with Sage and Fontina. This was divine. The buttery crunchy panko on top gave it some great texture. Couldn't find fontina in my small town, so I used quesadilla cheese and havarti. Any soft white cheese will do.

From Anthony Bourdain:
Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Carrots with Bacon and Brown Sugar. Genius. Thrown in a grain and you have a complete meal of sorts.

Cranberry Relish. The easiest and most delicious thing on the plate, in my opinion. Bag of cranberries. Whole navel orange. Tons of sugar. Food process it and let it chill. Yowza.

Sausage and Mushroom Stuffing. Left the sausage out. Lance's Mom doesn't eat pork, and I had already baconized the veggies. Left the mushroom out, too. Just did broth, celery, carrots, onions. The bread was onion rolls and wheat rolls stale and chopped up. Delightful. Simple.

From Jessica Koslow:
Dinner Rolls. Disaster. Had to throw them out and call Mom to pick up some on the way. I'm not good at bread. I want to be.

Friend: slaw. Didn't happen. She was ill and couldn't come at the last minute. More leftovers for me and Lance!

Dad: wine. He makes it and brought some. My siblings brought more. I had the port open for the gravy, so I worked on that. Cheers.

Mom: Tippins pies. A Kansas City favorite. Pecan and pumpkin. Store bought whipped cream. It was perfect.

Sarah: An appetizer tray with raspberries, blackberries, peppers, flatbread, and an onion chutney. Fresh and colorful.

Jeremy and Amanda: The family cheeseball and caramel bars. We devour this cheeseball every holiday chance we get. Type of crackers doesn't matter, as long as they can hold up to busting through chopped pecans and cream cheese. YES. And Amanda's caramel bars are gooey and buttery and stellar, and I don't even like dessert.

Rookie mistake. Did not cook the birds breast up. So had to flip them and dinner delayed an hour. We were fine. Everything else went well; rubbed with butter, stuffed with lemon and garlic, had them sitting in the roasting pan on top of quartered potatoes and onions with some broth and sage thrown into the pan. 

The kids were awesome and patient. They love my board games. They also walked down the street to play soccer in a park in my neighborhood. It was smart that we started gathering at noon. Had good daylight hours.

Lance catching up with his Mom, Mary. Clearly, they can get intense. But it was all good. It was lovely having her meet my family for the first time (in 5 years). Better late than never?

Dad. He showed me the error of my rookie turkey cooking ways. I let him carve them up, putting dark meat on one platter and white meat on another. Carving and the prayer are traditionally his duties.

Sybil was at the table ready to eat. That's my girl! Eclectic decorations courtesy of my Grandmother: table cloths and napkins and china. A bit of Talavera pottery from New Mexico, and IKEA clean design to pull it all together. The kids made the cute woven corn place tags.

The stuffing. Nom nom.

Roasted brussel sprouts and carrots with bacon and brown sugar.

Cranberry relish. Isn't this gorgeous?!

Mashed potato casserole. Winner for most butter. 

White meat turkey platter.

Loading up buffet style.

Notes of the last steps of cooking morning of. And my critique notes. It was a lovely day. Family was so great to all road trip to my house in Carthage. Can't say I'll do it again, but proud that I did it!