Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day Dinner: Tomato Rhubarb Chutney

My partner's aunt hosts her extended family on the day after Christmas, which for us means three big roast beast meals in a row, starting with Christmas Eve. I didn't really contribute to any of the preparation of the delicious glazed ham dinner meal, which also included oven roasted butternut squash with apples, steamed green beans with plum tomatoes, baked potato with sour cream, salad with grapefruit and avocado, and carrot cake for dessert. But I did present my hosts with a pint of tomato rhubarb chutney that I'd made in the spring when rhubarb came into season.

I think of the tomato rhubarb chutney as my first chutney because the first "chutney" I ever prepared was Martha's cranberry chutney. But now looking at her recipe, I see that because of the addition of nuts, Martha's chutney is actually a conserve. I've had a bear of a time finding a link to Martha's "chutney" because I got it from the Food Network's site before they gave Martha the ax when she became a convicted felon. Martha's cranberry chutney does have a good amount of cider vinegar and it's that sour in addition to the sweetness that to me defines a chutney. But do the nuts make it a conserve? Is there a distinction or is it a hybrid? Does anyone really care?

Here's a recipe for pork chops with rhubarb chutney that ran in the Washington Post in May of 2006. It comes from Elinor Klivens and it uses some some of the chutney to marinate the pork chops and to make into a pan sauce to serve on the side. Usually I just grill the chops with my favorite fennel spice rub and then just serve the chutney on the side on its own. The chutney is also delcious with pork tenderloin, chicken, salmon, cheese, etc.

Pork Chops with Tomato Rhubarb Chutney

by Elinor Klivens

4 servings

With boneless pork chops and some made-in-advance Tomato Rhubarb Chutney, it's a simple matter to create this savory entree. Serve with sauteed cabbage or baked sweet potatoes.

Four 5-ounce boneless pork chops (may substitute thick slices of pork tenderloin)

1 cup Tomato Rhubarb Chutney (recipe follows)

1 tablespoon corn oil or other flavorless vegetable oil

1/3 cup chicken broth or reduced-sodium chicken broth


Freshly ground black pepper

Chopped cilantro or chives, for garnish (optional)

Place the pork chops and 1/2 cup of the Rhubarb Tomato chutney in a resealable plastic food storage bag, then seal and squeeze to evenly coat the meat. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.

Shake off the excess chutney from the pork chops and reserve the marinade in the bag. In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until it is hot but not smoking. Sear the chops, turning occasionally, until they have browned on both sides, about 5 minutes total. Add the chutney reserved from the marinade and the chicken broth. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the chops are cooked through and the chutney mixture has thickened and deepened in color. Add the remaining 1/2 cup chutney to the skillet and cook, stirring, just until heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the chops with the chutney pan sauce spooned over the top. Garnish with cilantro or chives, if desired.

Tomato Rhubarb Chutney

Makes about 3 cups

This flavorful chutney recipe makes more than you need for the pork chops. Use what's left over to enliven almost any curry or grilled or roasted chicken, duck or pork.

Since the chutney is stored cold, it does not require processing in a boiling water bath. It will keep for up to 6 weeks in the refrigerator. It also may be frozen in plastic containers or sturdy glass preserving jars for up to 6 months; thaw in the refrigerator before using.

1 tablespoon chopped red or yellow onion

1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger root

1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds

3 sprigs thyme (or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme)

1/2 tablespoon orange zest

1/2 teaspoon crushed allspice berries or cardamom seeds, pods removed

Generous 1/4 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup cider vinegar

1 3/4 cups 1/2-inch pieces rhubarb (about 3/4 pound well-trimmed stalks)

1/4 cup coarsely chopped dried cherries or whole golden raisins

1 large firm tomato, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped

In a lidded, medium nonreactive saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the onion, ginger, mustard seeds, thyme, orange zest, allspice or cardamom, salt, sugar and vinegar. Bring to a boil and cook, covered, for 3 minutes. Add the rhubarb and cherries or raisins and stir. Reduce heat to medium and cook, covered, for 3 minutes. Discard the thyme sprigs, if using. Add the chopped tomato and cook, uncovered, for about 3 minutes or until it is just cooked through but still holds some shape. (The chutney may seem somewhat fluid, but it will thicken a bit when cooled.) Store, refrigerated, in tightly capped glass jars.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Day 2: What goes (and doesn’t go) into (Alton Brown's) basic tomato sauce

So on the Sunday two days before Christmas I was at my mother’s planning on running around with my partner getting some last minute things for meals and gifts. Of course, me being me, and with the breakfast dishes not yet cleared from the table no less, before I went out for the day I asked my mother if she’d thought about what to make for dinner. She being she, Mom had not actually given any thought to lunch let alone the following meal. Me being me, I had of course decided that a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs would be fairly quick and easy and would in no way compete with any of the roast beast dinners to follow over the next three days.

So when I got home, admittedly feeling a bit tired and cranky, Mom said to me, “They [the ones that rarely cook and don’t offer to clean up] don’t want meatballs. How about a meat sauce instead?” Remembering all I’d heard and read about making the holidays a pleasant family experience, I said smiling, “That's fine with me” and started to make my sauce. Then my mother asked me what I would put in it. “Onion, garlic, carrots, and celery,” I replied. “Celery? And no pepper?” she asked, eyebrows furrowing. “Yes that’s always the base for my sauce.” Then my older brother walked into the kitchen telling me, “There’s no carrots and no celery in sauce!” And then my mother who loves pepper, realized she couldn’t put her ingredient in either because my brother HATES cooked pepper and has since he was a child. So, backing away from the cutting board I told my brother, “Well if one doesn’t like how someone else is going to prepare the sauce, maybe one should just make the sauce himself!” And, shockingly, he agreed without protest. The man knows what he likes and how to make it!

I was actually glad to not have to make the sauce because I wasn’t in such a good mood after having to defend my recipe for sauce and instead proceeded to make sautéed tatsoi and mustard greens and garlic bread with mozzarella. Plus, my brother is actually a good cook, especially when he’s preparing some of his favorite foods. We couldn’t be more different in our tastes, habits, likes and dislikes, but I have to admit that I probably got into cooking because of him. (Isn't it amazing how the first born affects the ones that follow?) Even though I had a cheap imitation of an Easy Bake Oven that actually required no “baking” (if one can call cooking by a light bulb baking) and the results of which tasted like chemical cleaner and couldn’t even be dressed up by the frosting packet included, my brother received an actual cookbook for his birthday or Christmas one year. He was the first aspiring chef in the family and because of him all three of us kids were introduced to the wonders of cinnamon toast and sugar cookies that we could prepare ourselves at last!

His meat sauce was a bit watery and could have stood another couple of hours of simmering or more tomato paste, but was actually quite delicious and reminded me of my mother’s. (Incidentally, when I make sauce nowadays, I finish it in a 325 degree oven so that it can cook down without fear of scorching on the stovetop.) But I explain all this preamble to get to the discussion that occurred on Christmas Day. We had my younger sister’s best friend as a dinner guest who I learned for the first time had an Italian-American grandmother. So we got to talking about what goes into sauce and I posited that I always start my sauce with a sofrito (what the French call mire poix) so the base always includes onions, carrots, and celery! She laughed and said that her grandmother would never put celery into her sauce (or as she called it, gravy), and sorry, Mom, no pepper either. Just onions, garlic, and perhaps carrot. I countered that I was following marinara recipes from the Food Network’s Giada De Laurentiis and Mario Batali and no one is more Italian-American than they. But inwardly, I doubted my recipe. Was I, the inveterate food purist, using an inauthentic recipe for making basic tomato sauce? A quick search of the Food Network’s website showed that yes I had adulterated the recipe for sauce by using the celery which Mario and Giada did not use. Further perusal showed that the celery idea came from Alton Brown’s pantry tomato sauce which is pretty much the method that I follow and Alton ain’t got the I-talian bona fides.

But! The base for meat sauce (Bolognese) is in fact different from the base for basic tomato sauce (marinara), at least if one uses the Food Network or Epicurious as a source. The two recipes that I follow for ragu Bolognese, Mario's and one from Epicurious, both use onion, carrot, and celery as the base and milk in the sauce. Even Giada has two versions of Bolognese--one using leftover turkey and the other using ground meat--that use the onion, carrot and celery (but no milk). And frankly, when I've made sauce, whether with meat or without, I've just used the same base. So sue me!

While I’m not sure if the base for meat sauce should be the same as the base for marinara sauce, I suspect what I'm finding is the usual variation on a familiar recipe which is so typical of Italian cooking. I must admit that I’ve even adulterated Alton’s recipe with parsnips (HERESY!) when I’ve been in a situation where I have no carrots. I also spice it up with a good amount of red pepper flakes OR even jalapeno. And Alton’s method of separating the canned tomatoes from their juice and boiling the juice down separately is a great way to thicken the sauce. You can of course reduce that liquid in the same pan with the rest of the sauce as it cooks, but following Alton’s method you’ll start off with a nicely thickened tomato base that is started at the same time as you're sweating the veggies. Once reduced, the liquid will not give you a watery sauce at all and you won’t need any tomato paste. I also skip the oven roasting of the tomatoes. This certainly would add flavor, but if that’s what you like, save a step and another dirty pan and just buy fire roasted canned tomatoes. So here's Alton's recipe with my embellishments.

Pantry Friendly Tomato Sauce
by Alton Brown and adapted by me

2 (28-ounce) cans whole, peeled tomatoes
1/4 cup sherry vinegar [or balsamic]
1/4 cup sugar [optional and certainly to taste]
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 onion
1 carrot
1 stalk celery
2 ounces olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained [optional, IMHO]
1/2 cup white wine
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

  1. In a sieve over a medium non-reactive saucepot, strain the tomatoes of their juice into the sauce pot. Add the vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, oregano, and basil to the tomato juice. Stir and cook over high heat. Once bubbles begin to form on the surface, reduce to a simmer. Allow liquid to reduce by 1/2 or until liquid has thickened to a loose syrup consistency.
  2. Squeeze each tomato thoroughly to ensure most seeds are removed. Set the tomatoes aside.
  3. Cut carrot, onion, and celery into uniform sizes and combine with olive oil and garlic in a large turkey size roasting pan [or a 6 quart Dutch oven] over medium low heat. Sweat the mirepoix until the carrots are tender and the onion becomes translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and capers to the roasting pan. [Or deglaze the Dutch oven with the veggies with the white wine; add the tomatoes and the tomato juice reduction to the vegetables and skip paragraph 4.]
  4. Place roasting pan on the middle rack of the oven and broil for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Tomatoes should start to brown slightly on edges with light caramelization. Remove the pan from the broiler. Place the pan over 2 burners on the stove. Add the white wine to the tomatoes and cook for 2 to 3 more minutes over medium heat. Put the tomatoes into a deep pot or bowl and add the reduced tomato liquid to the tomatoes.
  5. [Cook the sauce on low covered with the lid slightly ajar. Stir occasionally to avoid scorching the bottom. Alternatively, cover your Dutch oven tightly and cook in the middle of a 325 degree oven for at least half an hour, until thickened somewhat.] Blend to desired consistency using an immersion blender, food processor, or blender and adjust seasoning.

Christmas Day: Homemade Ice Box Crackers

So on Christmas Day we were at my mom's house where she is in charge of her kitchen, period. I'm perfectly welcome to contribute, but I have to reign in my natural tendencies and adapt to her cooking style, which is fine basically because her cooking is wonderful and familiar and comforting just as any mom's cooking is (or ought to be). I'd thought we'd be having turkey since Mom didn't really get to cook one for Thanksgiving, though she actually did come to think of it but that wasn't in her own kitchen. She surprised me because she'd also bought a leg of lamb that we were pretty much all pulling for. One, because we're a family that loves lamb, and two, it cooks quicker than turkey! So lamb it was with oven roasted potatoes and carrots, boiled green beans with slivered almonds, boiled collard greens, and two leftovers from my Christmas Eve dinner at my brother-in-law's: cider braised endive and braised Yukon golds with leeks. (See the Christmas Eve post for more info.)

My contribution to the day was in the hors d'oeuvre area. My partner's father would be joining us for dinner so I knew we'd have to have something to offer him along with his preferred glass of red wine. I'd made goat cheese crackers and quince conserve that I put out with some sliced whole grain bread from Panera some cheddar cheese, and some kalamata olives. The crackers are a variation on Martha's Blue Cheese-Pecan Icebox Crackers with my goat cheese substitution and the quince conserve recipe is from Epicurious and is delicious on bread or crackers. The goat cheese crackers were slight disappointment because of my goat cheese substitution. Martha's crackers had been my preference over Cheddar-Parmesan crackers that I saw on Sara Moulton's show one day because Sara's were a bit more oily. But Martha's were so dry that I'm now reconsidering which recipe I prefer and will have to tweak them based on the cheese used, which, unlike nuts, are not interchangeable. My instincts were that goat cheese or practically any flavorful cheese could substitute for the blue cheese, but I hadn't considered that good, full flavored blue cheese is a bit salty and that I should have one) tasted the cracker dough before rolling it into a log to put into the fridge and two) added some salt regardless. I also neglected to add the required cayenne pepper from the recipe! Egad! I managed to resurrect these bland crackers by popping them back into a 350 degree oven for 5 minutes and then dusting them while hot with kosher salt and shichimi togarashi, which is a seven spice Japanese seasoning that includes hot pepper and black sesame seeds. The crackers were pretty good with the quince conserve and cheddar, though manchego would have been more traditional to go along with the quince, but I'm sure I'm the only one who thought so!

Goat Cheese Ice Box Crackers, with apologies to Martha Stewart

Makes 20 crackers

  • 3/4 cup (2 ounces) pecan halves
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoon chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 4 ounces goat cheese (Martha says 3 ounces blue cheese, such as Danish blue, crumbled)
  • A few sprinkles of shichimi to taste (Martha says cayenne pepper)
  • A few sprinkles of kosher salt (not in Martha's)
  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place pecans on a rimmed baking sheet; bake until fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool. Transfer pecans to the bowl of a food processor; pulse until finely ground. Transfer ground pecans into a small bowl; set aside.
  2. Combine flour and pecans in the bowl of a food processor; pulse briefly to combine. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add cheese; process until dough comes together and is well combined.
  3. Transfer dough to a work surface. Shape dough into a 2-inch-wide log. Wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.
  4. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Slice chilled log into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Transfer slices to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake immediately, rotating once, until crackers are golden brown and firm in the center, 25 to 35 minutes.
  5. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly. While still warm sprinkle to taste with your choice of seasonings and salt. I used shichimi and kosher salt.
  6. Cool completely on the rack. Crackers may be made a day ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve Dinner: Endive Braised in Cider

So I didn’t mention in my Thanksgiving post that my sister-in-law (my partner’s brother’s wife) called me on Thanksgiving morning while we were en route to Florida to say that she wanted to host my partner’s family for Christmas Eve dinner (as had been floated the year before) and…would I mind cooking it? Mind you my sister-in-law is an excellent cook. Her parents are real foodies and consummate entertainers. Her dad has taken classes at the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, NY, and the way her husband has described staying with her parents for the weekend makes their home sound like a fine inn and always includes some discussion of some fabulous meal(s) they all had together. And Sarah herself has a discerning palate and knows what she likes and how to prepare it. But she is a type A perfectionist and puts more than a bit of pressure on herself when she goes into the kitchen. Plus she’s got two children under five who are constantly demanding her attention so I can see that putting out a dinner and getting the house together on top of all the other holiday expectations of having it all done by December 24th would not put her in a good place. And I’m a firm believer that we should all be “Happy in the Kitchen,” especially when preparing food for loved ones on special occasions! So I consented to make the dinner. Really part of the reason she asked me is because we spend a week with them at the beach together every summer where we (I) cook 3 meals and they (she) cook 3 meals. But seeing her stressing in the kitchen last summer, I offered to cook all of the dinners, which I would do with pleasure as long as they (she) would bring the ingredients for their (her) 3 meals.

Plus I honestly love planning menus for dinner parties! It’s the ISTJ in me I guess, but I love to make a plan and then execute it. I should share my Excel workbook that I use for holiday planning. I’ve got versions of them going back to 2004. They include a calendar with events and to do’s; shopping lists for what I want to buy and how much I’ve budgeted for gifts and other expenses; and of course, menus and shopping lists for dinners and parties I’ll be hosting. Last year’s Christmas dinner menu (which I also prepared at my partner’s father’s house but I’d offered to do that) featured Marcella Hazan’s pork loin braised in milk. Well my sister-in-law didn’t attend that dinner so I wanted to have that again but follow Molly Stevens’ cooking method from All About Braising which is embellished with herbs and garlic and is done as an oven braise of the pork rather than a stove top braise alla Marcella.

Because oven braising requires little attention I thought I’d do an entire meal of braised dishes. We had to have potatoes on the side and Molly says in the intro to “The Simplest Potato and Leek Braise” that it is a dish “I make when I want something luxurious but don’t want to do any real work.” And indeed that is an apt description because if you can peel a potato, wash some leeks, cut them both up and put them in a casserole with some butter, stock and thyme, you’re done with that recipe. In fact we added too much stock to the potatoes and cooked them uncovered longer than suggested to evaporate the liquid. But we ended up with the most delicious potatoes that were the consistency of lumpy mashed potatoes and required NO EFFORT! Lastly, pork requires some kind of leafy green or cabbage. Last year was kale but I was leaning towards Molly’s oven braised cabbage or one of my favorite Brussell sprouts preparations. I finally settled on cider-braised endive which is done on the stovetop and has that apple and mustard combo that so perfectly complements pork.

We finished off dinner with a salad of roasted beets, shaved fennel, and arugula with the simplest lemon vinaigrette, and then the most delicious pies—apple galette and chocolate pecan—all of which my sister-in-law pulled off with aplomb! The chocolate pecan deserves special mention because the bittersweet chocolate was the perfect antidote to the usually sickeningly supersweet pecan pie which even this dessert lover can only have a sliver of. I think I’ll be making that myself at some future dinner party. In fact, I think I’ll be recreating the entire dinner for entertaining at home at some point in the next couple of months! What follows is the endive recipe from, which I gather is an Australian food website with an international focus and is quite worth exploring.

Cider Braised Endive with Mustard and Thyme


2 tbl unsalted butter [or olive oil]

6 medium Belgian endive halved lengthwise

Salt and ground black pepper

1 1/3 cups apple cider

2 tbl Dijon mustard

2 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves


1. Melt butter [or a combo of butter and olive oil] in a saute pan large enough to hold the endive in a single layer. [You might need two wide sauté pans at this stage, unless you’d rather cook the endive in stages.] When butter is hot, add endive, cut sides down. Cook, turning once, over medium heat until lightly browned, about 8 minutes total. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

2. Turn endive cut sides down, and add cider to pan. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until endive is tender, about 15 minutes. Use slotted spoon to transfer endive to serving platter.

3. Raise heat to high, and simmer liquid in pan until it thickens and reduces to a syrupy consistency [which could take up to 8 minutes]. Remove from heat, and whisk in mustard and thyme. Adjust seasonings and drizzle over endive.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Time required: 20-25 minutes

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Home again, home again: Mexican Turkey Dinner Featuring Stuffed Kohlrabi

So we landed in Baltimore on Saturday without event. Let me just say that the pre-Thanksgiving mania seemed designed to whip everyone into a frenzy over the potential travel nightmares that were sure to ensue. Well, our experience was fortunately nothing but smooth (except for that accident at 11:00 p.m. on MD Route 50 that HALTED traffic for an hour as we were on our way to my sister's to spend the night nearer to the airport on Wednesday night, but that is all but forgotten, really!). In fact, even though I live in Washington, DC and always prefer National Airport because of it's proximity, after this trip, I'd definitely choose BWI over Dulles if the flights out of National are too expensive. Our main worry was that since we were flying out on Thanksgiving morning, BWI's long term parking lot might have been full (it wasn't), but then we saw on a CNN travel report that it's possible to reserve a parking spot at a satellite lot that isn't affiliated with the airport. A quick google search later, we had reserved parking at Park 'n' Go and when we arrived at the parking lot (at 5:00 a.m.!) the shuttle bus was driving around the parking lot, picking up passengers and handing out slips of paper indicating where you'd parked. On the return, we were the only ones on our shuttle so we were promptly dropped off at our car, and on our way out of the lot in mere minutes. There was no waiting for an airport shuttle, no trying to remember where we'd parked, and no schlepping our stuff back to our car. For $7.60/day, it was cheaper than parking at the airport facility and the service was as good as a taxi!

So, in a rather buyoant mood, we decided to stop at our favorite organic grocery store, David's in Odenton, MD. This place is a welcome alternative to the frenzy of shopping at Whole Paycheck, but frankly I'm not sure how this store stays in business. It's a full size grocery store in a small town where there really doesn't seem to be a strong market for organics, but I must be wrong because the place has been a going concern for a number of years and has two other locations. Not surprisingly there were few people shopping on Saturday early evening of Thanksgiving weekend, so we had the store to ourselves. Let me say that because I get the bulk of my groceries delivered by Peapod (which I will never give up because it's so convenient) and I usually shop at my local farmers market on the weekend, I actually like to visit the brick and mortar stores for the hands on experience of it all. If I've got the time, I like to go up and down every aisle, seeing what's new and comparison shopping and picking up new items that I've read about but haven't yet tried. This trip it was agave nectar which is a stand in for honey I gather.

When we happened by the meat case, what did we see but the free range, never frozen turkeys! Ruefully, I recalled our braised 25 pound butterball that was delicious but all the leftovers went to my cousin. I started inspecting and moving around the smaller 11 pound birds (which would have been perfect for our Thanksgiving for eight down in Orlando, BTW). Half-kidding my partner says to me, "We should get one. I love turkey and we don't have any leftovers this year." Not believing he was serious I said, "But we just had turkey. Do you really want more?" Then, recalling that I have a Mexican cookbook with a roast turkey recipe, I got excited about roasting the turkey but going in a different direction and not really repeating the whole mashed potatoes and gravy, bread stuffing, green beans and canned cranberry sauce thing. And kudos to my partner for pushing his point. After all my catterwauling about not getting to really cook much this year, he offered me the opportunity to make a turkey dinner after all! And going with a Mexican theme would guarantee no repeats from last week.

Normally I'd have started with the brining the the night before, but after getting home and winding down all I wanted was to have something light to eat and call it a day, which turned out to be leftover homemade pizza with smoked mozzarella, sliced turkey cutlet and artichokes. Feeling tired of course didn't stop me from poring over my cookbooks to come up with a menu. In addition to the above mentioned Mexican Cookbook by Sue Style, I also have Rick Bayless's Mexico One Plate at a Time, both of which are go to sources for my Mexican repertoire. Following Sue's recipes is like cooking with your favorite aunt. She's knowledgeable, a bit bossy even, but she knows her stuff. (Think Giada de Laurentiis being schooled by her Aunt Raffie.) Sue's book has a certain formalism to how things are supposed to be done and she's right there to guide you through the steps and let you know what to expect as you cook. Plus she is well beyond introducing recipes for the familiars that we've all seen at our local "Mexican" restaurants. She has at least eight recipes for chiles rellenos, only one of which is breaded, fried, and filled with cheese. In fact I've marked off a bunch of her recipes that use ingredients like chard, kohlrabi, and cauliflower, as well as avocado used for something besides guacamole or salad.

I soon settled on an ambitious menu but I'm a perpetual early riser and was genuinely looking forward to getting started in the morning. My menu would be:
  • Pavo al horno (Roast Turkey) with an orange sauce and sausage stuffing
  • Enchiladas de alcega (Corn tortillas filled with chard)
  • Chayotes Rellenos de Veracruz (Stuffed chayote though the recipe also suggested kohlrabi)
  • Wild rice blend

I chose this menu because I had most of the ingredients on hand or knew that I could get them from the Dupont Farmers Market on Sunday. I'd never made any of these recipes before, and all are a complete departure from anything I've ever seen served at Thanksgiving. Surprisingly they all came from Sue Style's book, as I discovered in my perusals that Rick's is short on vegetable side dishes. I can't remember the last time I prepared any meal let alone such an ambitious one, using a single source. Partly it was dictated by the fact that I'd had four kohlrabi kicking around in my vegetable drawer and knew that I could find onions, chard and even fresh tomatoes at the market.

The first three dishes are all "al horno," which like the Italian "al forno" just means cooked in the oven. I thought I'd be saving some time by preparing the two sides after putting the turkey in the oven, but alas my partner and I ended up hitting the gym after I put the bird in the oven, and even though I'd prepped some of the other dishes, the interlude at the gym set me back with moving things along. Anyway the sausage stuffing wasn't cooking so quickly so had to be removed from the turkey cavity and cooked separately. This was all OK as the results were all really outstanding! I LOVED all the dishes especially the sausage stuffing. This from a man who grew up on bread stuffing and only recently moved toward cornbread stuffing. The sausage stuffing was made with one pound of sage sausage that I removed from it casing and mixed that with the cooked combo of garlic, tomato, onion, raisins, apple, banana(!), and almonds. This stuffing went perfectly with the wild rice mixture. The stuffing had sweetness, crunch and richness from the pork fat that was a perfect complement to the rice. I continue to be fascinated by the combination of fruit with meat in so many dishes. (I love to make a braised beef rib recipe that has apricots and prunes in its sauce.) The banana just melted into the stuffing and only contributed a bit of sweetness, while the other fruits provided a wonderfully subtle sweetness that contrasted to the richness of the sausage.

I ended up making the enchiladas with "vitamin greens," as my favorite green grocer at the market was out of chard, though vitamin greens looked and tasted just like Swiss chard. It's a simple preparation that begins with making salsa de jitomate (tomato sauce). If you've ever felt like making Italian style tomato sauce was a bit of a labor, Mexican style sauce is much easier. Instead of sauteing your sofrito in olive oil you char the onions (skinned and sliced in half through the root end) under the broiler for ten minutes along with garlic cloves in their skins and jalapenos to taste, turning halfway through to cook evenly. Chop the onion into large chunks, peel the garlic and jalapeno(s), and place all into a blender. Add two 28 ounce cans of whole tomatoes and puree. Heat about two tablespoons of olive oil to near smoking in a four quart sauce pan. Add the sauce all at once being careful not to splash yourself with the hot oil. The mixture will sizzle and roil and then settle down. Cook for at least 10 minutes on medium until the sauce thickens and bubbles like lava.

The stuffed kohlrabi was also delicious. After boiling the kohlrabi for 20 minutes to tenderize them and then cooling in ice water, I sliced off the tops and bottoms (so they would sit flat in the baking dish) and scooped out the flesh leaving about a quarter inch intact to hold the stuffing. This scooped out flesh was added to onion and garlic sweated in olive oil and finished with half a small can of tomatoes or one medium chopped tomato. Sue recommends pureeing this cooked mixture in a food processor with two eggs and a quarter pound of crumbly cheese (I used feta). However, I don't like things pureed to the consistency of baby food, so I coarsely mashed the mixture with my potato masher and then stirred in the eggs and cheese. I filled the hollowed out kohlrabi with the mixture and topped with some additional cheese. Baked at 350 degrees for half an hour, the stuffed kohlrabi was delicioso! Buen Provecho!

Friday, November 23, 2007

The day after the biggest eating fest: Roasted Cauliflower with Apples

Well, I actually woke up hungry after an all day eating fest yesterday. As always time spent with family breaking bread is a blessing. All of us who gathered have so much to be thankful for. The fact that my mother, widowed for just over a year, can do as she pleases, enjoys good health, and doesn't worry about finances is the one thing that I am most thankful for. To be part of a family who can make a plan to meet in some other city for a holiday weekend is truly something to give thanks for.

"But what about the food?" you ask? Well, my family doesn't do things on a small scale, even when cooking for just eight people. My aunt of course took charge and directed the day. My cousin had her list of what to bring by car, and after a couple of trips to the supermarket, including one to the Wal*Mart Supercenter where, I kid you not, my aunt saw someone buying his turkey at around 11:00 that day. We had southern style corbread dressing (never to be confused with stuffing!), green beans, carrots, mashed potatoes, biscuits, salad, and cauliflower. Oh, and did I mention the 25 pound turkey? My aunt who only knows how to cook for a crowd told my cousin to get that large of a bird!

Two days ago I wrote about T-Day as the ultimate eating fest for the food loving crowd, but sitting here this morning after the Tryptophan overload, I can't help but feel guilty about the excess. Even knowing that it's only once a year, I have to admit that next year I'd like the focus to be less on the food and more about something else. Growing up I always felt that the huge eating was a kind of an affirmation for my mother's family. Though we'd weathered hard times, each fall we could be thankful for each other and helping each other get through. Yesterday felt like it was more about excess. Personally I LOVE Thanksgiving leftovers, but I guess not when I'm on vacation. It seems a tragedy that so much food might end up going in the trash. I'm going to try to suggest that maybe next year we do something like volunteer on Thanksgiving morning. It might help us to refocus on the Thanks and Giving part of the holiday.

Anyway, the Ganbaru Cook managed to make more than the peppery ginger cookies. I also contributed one of my favorite roasted cauliflower dishes from Jeremy Traunfeld's The Herbal Kitchen: Cooking with Fragrance and Flavor. I'd made it a couple of weeks ago with a gorgeous and huge head of purple cauliflower, and I wanted to contribute a a vegetable to the bachanalia. Basically you roast cauliflower at 375 degrees with sliced onion, raisins, and diced apple with a bit of white wine (or stock), olive oil, and salt and pepper. Cover with foil the first thirty minutes (my variation), then raise the heat to 450, uncover, and stir in some chopped dill for 15 minutes more. You'll end up with a delicious roasted vegetable dish that is a perfect Thanksgiving side.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving 2007: Peppery Ginger Cookies

It's the day before the biggest eating day in America! Are you as excited as I am at the prosepect? I'm excited, but admittedly a little less so this year. For the last two years I've had the pleasure of hosting Thanksgiving in my humble home. For the food obsessed, I'm sure you know that Thanksgiving is it! What with poring over recipes, planning the menu, shopping for just the right ingredients, and preparing foods that reflect fall's bounty, nothing compares! It's the best kind of stress for me really. I love to plan AND I love to cook. Watching the food shows; contemplating something new to merge with the old standbys that everyone demands, I mean, expects to have; and of course sharing it all with loved ones. Organizing it all in a spreadsheet to map out a timeline and show what to have for each course and what dish it will be served in, what could be more of a high for a ganbaru cook?

Just reviewing last year's spreadsheet, I see we had hors d'oeuvres of crackers with caramelized onion, tuna mousse, assorted pickles and cheeses, crudite with hummus, spiced nuts, and cauliflower soup. For the main event, brined turkey with fennel spice rub; collard greens with onion and adobo; butternut squash a scapece; yukon gold mashers with parsnips, celeriac, roasted garlic, and roasted scallions; herb cornbread stuffing with turkey bacon and fennel, buttermilk biscuits with parmesan cheese, cranberry chutney, and, of course, gravy! And let us not forget the desserts: peppery ginger cookies, honey lavender almond ice cream, and my sister's apple pie. Believe it or not this menu for seven was composed AFTER learning my lesson from the previous year when I cooked way too much for 16! But I think you get the picture! Yes indeed, I thrive on this stuff!

I set all that up to inform you that this year I won't be hosting as my family are all converging in Orlando. I can just hear your collective, "Awwww..." In fact as I write this from Washington, DC, everyone else is already in Florida (except my partner and me) enjoying the balmy weather and making their way to Sea World. Fortunately I prevailed upon them to wait until Friday for Disney World, which I hope none of us will regret as rain is in the forecast. But if it's a nice day, won't everyone in Orlando want to go to Disney World on that Friday? Are we mad? I guess we'll find out!

So the only thing I'll be preparing this year is the peppery ginger cookies, which are easy to transport AND my cousin loves them. She favors them because a) she loves anything with ginger, and b) unlike most ginger cookies that come out crisp, these are nice and chewy thanks to the brown sugar and molasses. Plus they've got a secret ingredient for a little added kick: a half teaspoon of freshly ground pepper (I wouldn't substitute pre-ground), which is in addition to both powdered and candied ginger. So I hope that as you make your way over the river and through the woods, your journey is safe and all is well with you and yours.

p.s. If you're dreading the obligatory trip home, hope your day doesn't end like Washington Post food blogger Kim O'Donnell's a few years back!

Peppery Ginger Cookies
Yields: 3 1/2 to 4 dozen cookies

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1/4 cup molasses
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached flour
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon (freshly ground is transformative)
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated is best)
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (YES!)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 beaten egg
1/2 cup candied ginger (snipped into small pieces)
Turbinado (raw) sugar for rolling (adds flavor and sparkle)

Melt butter; stir in molasses and vanilla and let cool. In separate bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking soda, and all the spices and salt.

Add the beaten egg to the cooled butter mixture. Fold into the bowl with flour and spices and add the candied ginger. Cover and refrigerate at least 15 minutes to make the dough firm. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Put the raw sugar in a shallow dish. Using a cookie scoop, make balls of the dough, rolling in the raw sugar. Place on an ungreased baking sheet, 2 inches apart.

Bake for 10 minues until cookies are starting to brown on the bottom and the tops start to crack. Let cool on a rack for 5 minutes -- they will firm up a bit at this point.

Important: Do not overbake, or cookies will be brittle and bitter. These are wonderfully chewy, spicy, and addictive cookies.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ruminations and Beginnings: Why THIS blog about food...

So it occurred to me of late that I spend way too much time thinking about food! Actually it was more than a few months back, but I stand guilty as charged and here is the evidence:

  • Is it normal to look forward to the weekend because I know that I'll have the chance to hit not one but two farmers markets within walking distance of my home (one on Saturday, the other on Sunday)?

  • Is it normal to use aforementioned trips to the farmers market as a mood enhancer?

  • How about when I'm bored at work and I start scribbling down what's at home in the fridge and deciding how I might like to prepare it tonight or sometime this week?

  • One time on a bike trip in Holland with people I'd only just met, I confessed one night over beers that, "In my heart, I think I may be a French woman." (I'd given that book French Women Don't Get Fat to my sister for her birthday and after reading it myself, I realized that I actually have the cooking/eating/lifestyle philosophy of a French woman!)

This because I care entirely too much about sourcing good food and finding worthwhile recipes that I can try at home. So, after my partner said to me last night that the cod dish I'd prepared from one of Rachael Ray's recipes was better than any restaurant meal he could have hoped for, I decided that I need to write down my feelings about preparing food from the recipes that I encounter. (So now you know that I watch the Food Network--not surprising, I'm sure--and that I don't disdain Ms. Ray--whom so many in the food blogosphere dismiss out of hand.)

The purpose of this blog will just be about my experiences in everyday cooking of other people's recipes. I'm certainly not opposed to creating my own recipes and generally feel confident in doing so. But I'm just not one of those people who proudly claims, "Oh, I never follow a recipe!" I generally enjoy following and comparing others' recipes to learn about flavor combinations and techniques. When comfortable and confident I will certainly embellish as I see fit. Sometimes I'll follow a recipe to the letter (usually the first time out), but I'm certainly not opposed to substituting based on what I have on hand and making something my own if I get the gist of the recipe right off the bat.

So, what will follow will be my musings on preparing food for family and friends. I hope you'll join me on occasion and share your own impressions.

So many recipes, so little time!