Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The 29 days of Christmas and what I made

3 hats (2 adult and one infant)
1 shawl
1 toddler sweater
6 loaves of bread
a glass of eggnog with rum 
2 cranberry gingerbread upside down cakes

1 batch of Rugelach (Marg's Justifiably Famous)
1 batch of Colman cookies 
the afore-mentioned ham, brussels sprouts and spoonbread meal

a very long drive
several large messes which I sometimes left for others to clean up.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Eve and the rebirth of Golum

Well, I think I redeemed myself after the Thanksgiving Debacle. I made ham, brussels sprouts with pancetta and chestnuts (so? I like pork), and spoon bread. Bought a fully cooked ham, referred to as "semi-boned". Whatever that means. Turns out it means that it only has part of the leg bone and none of the joint. I read a number of recipes that mystified me with instructions to boil the ham for 2 hours before baking it to remove the saltiness. Isn't that the good part? the recipes called for variously - uncured ham, uncooked ham, Smithfield style ham, southern ham, cured ham, and fully cooked ham. It was too complex so I said screw it, jammed in a bunch of whole cloves and baked the thing at 350 for a few hours. Then I glazed it with a mix of equal parts marmalade, whole grain mustard and orange juice. I dumped the rest of the orange juice in the bottom of the pan and every 10 minutes I basted it and reglazed until I ran out of glaze and the spoon bread was done.

The brussels were from Nigella Lawson Feast, which I love. I swear I have never made a bad thing out of that cookbook. Spoonbread from Epicurious, found while trolling for decipherable ham recipes. A thing of joy to the world, especially Christmas morning when I cut the leftovers into slabs, fried them in butter and served them with maple syrup. But I digress.

The meal was really good, but I didn't realize how good until the next morning when A was slicing ham for an "omelette au jambon", as he refers to it. He was muttering crossly as he sliced and when I passed by on my way to seconds of maple syrup I realized he was muttering about how much ham he had sent home with our daughter the night before. "Doesn't appreciate it, took almost half, not enough, never enough" he mumbled as he weilded a large carving knife with an obsessive ferocity that put me in mind of Golum. I have stayed away from the leftovers ever since.

Monday, December 28, 2009

the "there and then" moment

We all know about the "there and then" moment in relationships.
He breaks up with you, tells you that you should go out with his friend for a while and then you all can revisit the decision in a few months, he admits to cheating on you but says that the Neil Young song, Helpless ran through his head the entire time, your first trip away together, you get in a fight and he doesn't talk to you for 3 days, not a word. For each of those, There and Then, you should have known.
Well the same applies to cooking. When the pie crust was awash in melted butter and setting off the fire alarm, there and then, I should have known. The moment I realized that I hadn't added leavening to the cobbler dough, when the dog whimpered and backed away from the Cornish game hen, when the expiration date was 3 dogs ago, half way into making gingerbread and I discovered I didn't have any ginger and convinced myself that cloves and cardamom were a perfectly acceptable substitute, 3/4 of the way into making gingerbread and I realized I had used dried mustard in place of the ground ginger.
The only time I actually recognized the there and then moment was one of my first cakes. I was at my grandmother's house and baking a cake from a box mix. The directions called for 1 1/2 cups of water. I read this as 11 and 2 and added 13 cups of water. (I was probably 8 and it was surely my the first time I solo baked.)
I showed the watery soup to my mother and explained that I had just followed the directions. She explained how to read fractions. I wanted to know how we could salvage it. Could I strain it, add 6 more boxes of mix? "No, you'll just have to pour it down the drain."
Maybe it is easier to recognize another person's There and Then.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

the 29 days of Christmas and what I made

3 bread puddings
4 pans of lasagna, one vegetarian
1 chocolate cake
2 batches chocolate chip cookies, 2 batches oatmeal cherry cookies, 5 batches fabulous chocolate chunkers, 4 batches famous rugelach
2 different types caramel sauce
1 lamb tagine
1 lamb pot pie w sweet potato crust
2 roast chickens
1 beef stir fry
scrambled eggs
1 nantucket cranberry pie
4 cranberry upside down gingerbread cakes
1 sausage and polenta casserole
3 pots of white beans w sausage
white bean and butternut squash soup
chicken tettrazini
a triple recipe of Grossmutters Punsch
the usual green and orange vegetables, not worth detailing, but don't want to give the impression that December has been nothing but a riot of white pasta, white sugar and white beans

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

holy cow eggnog

As if the chicken had nothing to do with it!
My friend, Debbie, makes eggnog as follows:
12 egg yolks, 1 qt whole milk, 2 C sugar, stir it all up until the sugar dissolves and add a fifth of rum. Then whip a qt of heavy cream and fold it in.
Nothing is heated. She says it is just important to keep it chilled. She doesn't always add the entire fifth of rum, but she says her mother does.
Her mother is from Alabama.
We thought if there were any leftovers, you could use it to make french toast on Christmas morning.
My sister is the eggnog person in the family, so perhaps she will weigh in here.

Eggnog person weighing in here (and weighing more I'm sure after this eggnog season)

The one time I made eggnog from scratch it was na-stee. The recipe wanted you to separate the eggs and whip the whites. When you had the yolks, sugar, cream etc combined then you gently folded in the beaten whites and added the whiskey. Then the beaten whites separated from the rest of the liquid and floated to the surface so that by the time you served it you had decent eggnog with a 3" thick layer of raw merangue on top. Not very festive.

this recipe sounds like a fabulous alternative to Organic Valley, though generally I prefer it unsullied with alcohol. You can drink more.

the lasagne of oppression

In which lasagna is the oppressor and spiced wine punch is the liberator.
It was the bf's office party and that meant 8-12 people for dinner plus his 15-year old son and 3 friends. I volunteered to make a lasagna. All those people plus 4 15-year olds? That adds up to 2 pans of lasagna.
I make a pretty good one. I'm not famous for it, but as lasagnas go, it is my favorite. It involves a ragu made from browned ground beef and 2 types of sausage over which I dump a bottle of Rao's marinara sauce. So far, so easy. There is a white sauce, still, pretty easy. I had to grate 4 C of Parmesan so I opted for the food processor, and that was a good call, despite the extra time and space required for washing it.
Then there were the noodles.
Recently, I have decided that fresh lasagna noodles (purchased from the refrigerator section of whole foods, not made myself, which would move the lasagna beyond oppression and into the realm of abuse or even torture, serfdom, maybe) make a far superior dish. The purchasing part is easy, but they have to be boiled and then removed from the boiling water, not just dumped into a colander to drain, so another package can be boiled. Remember, 2 pans. And they are HOT. And I can't manipulate them with utensils because they tear. So I curse and burn my finger and wrestle them apart and have to drape them across the sauce and naturally they are not the size of the pan so I have to cut them and patch pieces in, all the while cursing and burning my fingers as my feelings of oppression hypertrophy. Why 2 pans? I never would have agreed to this had I known I'd need 2 pans. And what do 15-year old boys know from al dente pasta? They would be fine with no-boil noodles.
And the hour grows late and I still haven't dressed or done make-up. The dog keeps bouncing at me, and pawing me, because their dinner is now 2 hours late, and I still have to walk them and I've lost most of the skin off my finger tips.
Did I mention that I had my spider veins injected and have to wear real honest to goodness support hose for a week? If ever there was a perfect primer for feelings of oppression, it would be support hose. I now know why old women are so disagreeable. These things couldn't be more uncomfortable. So I'm wrestling with scalding hot noodles as my white sauce congeals and the dog starts to whine pitifully, all while enduring itchy, tightly compressed legs, and an excruciating binding around my hips and a near severing cinching at my waist. I think the dog would start gnawing on my ankle except he would probably break a tooth and also die from the poisonous chemicals that keep these things tighter than an iron mask day after day.
I finally have both pans assembled. The gross weight of the dirty dishes that are strewn around the kitchen I think is creating it's own little mini black hole, but I'm late so I turn my back on the disaster area and box up the pans, padding each one with plenty of brown paper bags bc I know they will slop grease all over on the way to the bf's house.
The good news is that I had made Grossmutters Punsch and as soon as I got there, I had a large glass over crushed iced and all was at least improved with the world.
Two more days of support hose.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

snow bound baking

I have carried the Cooks Illustrated recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies around for over a year and I finally settled down to make it. You brown the butter. Then there is some whisking. The whole thing can be made without a mixer. The recipe wants you to make 16 cookies and I made 24 and they were still much too large. Unless you are making ice cream sandwiches or plan to serve each one as a complete meal, make them quite small. They spread like crazy when baked.
I wasn't especially impressed. They look really supermarket bakery-ish, but once they were cooled, they were really pretty good. I gave some to my neighbor who plowed out my drive after the 2+ feet of snow.
This is day 2 of the 2+ feet of snow so I have been baking all day and also mostly housebound, so not exactly a pristine palette. Just about anything would taste OK to me right now. I wouldn't eschew a boiled Brussels sprout, nor would I devour a mille feuille.
I'd make those cookies again.
Then I made the oatmeal cookies from Baked. I've made them before and they have a lot of brown sugar which I think really picks them up. Then it is important to just about undercook them. Gave some of them away too. They are reliably good and popular. Not an oatmeal cookie to inspire the usual oatmeal cookie disappointment.
Last year I made Abby's oatmeal cookies and my massage therapist said she ate them for breakfast bc they tasted so healthy. I don't think that was a complement.

the best bread pudding

I have decided, based on very little research, that the best bread pudding is comprised of a custard made w half milk and half heavy cream and about twice as many egg yolks as eggs.
For an 8" square pan, which I really don't recommend bc unless you are feeding just one, there won't be any left overs, but anyway, 8" square and double it for a 9x13.
5 c bread cubes, 1 1/4 c milk, 1 1/4 c heavy cream, 2 eggs, 5 yolks, 1/4 c sugar and 1 1/2 tsp vanilla, bit of salt. You cook the milk to scald then whisk the rest of it together and then whisk the rest of it in w the scalded milk, pour over the bread cubes. You have to have raisins, so add them now and toss to distribute. Cover w foil and bake it in a water bath at 375 for 45-60 minutes. Should be quivery in the center.
I like it w caramel sauce and, to really guild the lilies of the field, whipped cream.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

you can't beat a roast chicken

Last night I got home at the usual hour and found a most unusual sight. My husband was in the kitchen (nothing unusual in that) but he was stuffing a chicken that he bought himself with no coaching, prodding or whining, with a mixture of quince and chopped onions, both of which he also purchased himself. He liked the idea of quince, it sounded seasonal, he was curious about it - that's why. He asked the woman at the store about it and she said, sure, she'd had quince. Quince paste. Once.

 He surrounded the stuffed bird with chopped little potatos and put the whole thing in the oven that is usually about 50 degrees low (see Thanksgiving nightmare) set at 400 and we sat down to watch a documentary about Afghanistan. an hour and a half later we paused the film, got up and helped ourselves to a completely tender and delicious bird that didn't taste a thing like quince. Some steamed zucchini (I know, out of season, not local, but what are you going to say when someone is cooking dinner for you?) and we were happy as could be.

Monday, December 14, 2009

rugelach, always the ugly duckling

These are the two types of rugelach I make, ugly and must be kept for myself, and pretty enough to give as gifts.
I had decided that Rugelach will be the only cookie I make to give away this year and now I am worried that the difference between the ugly and the pretty is negligible and maybe I should reconsider. Maybe the pretty rugelach only look pretty when paired with their unsightly siblings, but on their own, or arrayed with someone else's almond sables, they are really pretty unsightly themselves. Maybe I should make oatmeal cookies.
Too late for the vet and the chiropractor though.

the sisters come together to realize a dream

It wasn't my dream.
Once upon a time, my sister had a cranberry upside down gingerbread cake. I had the same cake, well, not exactly the same cake, but from the same bakery, same cake, sent at same time of year, Christmas. And I thought it was gooey, in a sort of overly macerated way, slimey. My sister thought it was moist; damp in a wonderfully soft and luxurious way, not a dank and fetid basement way.
So she has toiled for years trying to duplicate it, and it seemed that either she got a cranberry upside down cake, or she got a gingerbread with cranberries ascended through the batter to clump near the top. There was an ascension, but she wasn't in heaven.
So my sister visited me, and in between dog walks where we had to pull the dogs off the half grown fawn, literally, (see Venison pie) we worked on her dream.
We started with Dori Greenspan's recipe for cranberry upside downer. And we didn't chop the cranberries, although, I think we should have and Laurie Colwin does for her Nantucket Cranberry pie. We used the spice blend from Laurie Colwin's gingerbread, my sister loves that gingerbread. And we thought that a gingerbread needed molasses. I believe there is an entire post devoted to that question. So we cut back on the milk and added 2 TB of regular molasses. That one was insipid. For the next one, we kept everything the same but added an extra TB of black strap molasses. On that one we glazed half of the finished cake with melted black current jam. It was supposed to be red current jelly, but this was what we had.
At first my sister was overjoyed. The cranberries stayed on the bottom and when the cake was turned out of the pan, it looked just like a cranberry upside down gingerbread cake. She danced around the kitchen, took pictures and sent them to her husband. I thought we had done it.
And I thought it tasted great. She was pleased at first, but as she worked her way through the 3 small pieces, the insipid one, and 2 better ones, one w the glaze and one w/o, she grew dissatisfied. It needed more sugar, maybe more ginger, maybe more molasses, different molasses. I thought the cranberries should be chopped. Other than that, I was pretty happy.
We decided that gingerbread might be like pumpkin cake for me, I just don't like it enough to be a really discerning judge. If it tastes pretty much ok, well, that's about the best you can expect from gingerbread. Pass the whipped cream.
My sister will continue to pursue her dream. I'll probably just make the cranberry pie with exactly the right amount of almond extract.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

pie crust or roofing shingles, humiliation AND dissapointment

I've made this crust before. Many times, bc it was such a success the first time, probably the first decent pie crust I've ever made. I attributed this to the way the water is added. You FOLD it in w a spatula, pressing and smearing, and you get a very flaky, crispy but tender crust. Also it is the crust that is given w my all time favorite pecan pie recipe, from cooks illustrated, (is there a conclusion to be drawn about people who are overly reliant on Christopher Kimball?) This time I doubled the recipe bc I was making two pies, one for me and one for my bf and his family. And I usually cut the butter into the flour with a pastry cutter and it is usually just fine. I am lazy and don't like having to wash the food processor; it seems so large and cumbersome and takes up the entire drying rack and I just have an aversion to it.
So I cut the butter with the pastry cutter, added the water with egg white, added a little extra water, but I usually do, so I'm still thinking it will be ok. I wrap it and chill it and roll it out and press it into the pan, and my mother flutes the edge bc I am incapable of doing that, it always looks as if my dog tried to wrestle the pie away from me.
The first clue was the smoke, thick, dark smoke seeping out from the edges of the oven door. I opened the door, knowing full well that the ridiculously placed smoke detector, the one directly above the oven, would go off, but I wanted to see what exactly had happened. The smoke detector started screeching, my mother and I flew around and opened doors and windows trying to create a cross draft. I tried to remember my password to stop the alarm, then I tried to remember where I had left the sheet with my password helpfully written on it. The alarm company called and I was still trying to find the cheat sheet and I could barely hear the man on the other end of the line as he asked me for my password and kept saying, "no, that's not it," "no, that's not it," as I ran through my elementary school teachers, the names of each band member from The Talking Heads, then The Gourds. Finally they said they were going to have to send the fire department.
Really? Someone has broken into my house, set it on fire and stayed around to answer the phone, even though she doesn't know the stupid password? It's not the burglar alarm that was going off.
Finally I found the cheat sheet, it's always the last place you look, silenced the alarm, and reassured the alarm company personnel.
Now I only had the voluminously smoking pie crust to deal with. Actually, it was the butter that had dripped onto the oven floor that was smoking. When I took the crust out to remove the pie weights, there were great puddles of melted butter washing back and forth in the pan. This seriously alarmed my mother. And in hind sight, that was the there-and-then moment. I should have started over, dirtied the food processor and done it correctly. But I still believed that it would be OK. I've done this before.
We blotted up the melted butter and put the crust back in the smoky oven. The alarm went off again, the alarm company called again, I left it for my mother to answer as I went to the basement to get a fan so we could direct the smoke away from the smoke detector.
The filling went beautifully, the pie looked lovely, thanks to my mother's fluting.
I left one for my bf who was having his whole family over for Thanksgiving dinner. Apparently his family, just in trying to cut it, never mind eat it, said, "Oh, now we know why she didn't come to dinner."
And it was awful. Like cardboard, only tougher. Like plywood, plywood that has been tempered in a grease fire. My mother thought I had mismeasured. She was really disturbed by the failure, even though it was my failure, or maybe because it was my failure. At one point she said, "Think of all the people who don't even cook, and they can make a better pie crust than that." I know she was just trying to deal with her own feelings about the experience, but how was I supposed to take that?
The lesson is (why do there always have to be lessons, why can't we just wallow in ignorance and still have a tender crust?) use the food processor and then fold the water in after. Yes, then you end up with both a food processor and a bowl to wash, but at least your bf's entire family doesn't make joke after joke at your expense.
And pecan pie is my favorite pie, so there was also the whole dashed expectations thing to deal with.