Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Southern Thanksgiving

Dear Alison, Abigail and Mom,

Since you've all asked how my Thanksgiving visit to Margaret was, I thought I'd do a mass update. We arrived on the Sunday before bc as Marg says, the pre-game show is the best part. She had made an amazing pot roast for us, in the oven bc her slow cooker insert is broken. Only she could wear out a Crock Pot, right? Chocolate cookies from The Grand Central Bakery Cookbook I gave her, and a beautiful gingerbread trifle with apples and cranberries.

We spent the next few days cooking, eating and exercising- you know, the way our family does. We did a bike ride in the pouring rain and came home soaked to the bone but were warmed by chicken curry, quinoa and braised cabbage. You might think that an unlikely combination, but somehow the indian, african and irish flavors all got along in a sort of We Are the World way.

Of course Thanksgiving was the highlight and we planned the menu with care. Not too complex, but special. Traditional but not slavishly so.
parmesan crisps - E
olives - M
turkey of course - Chris
stuffing - Debbie, traditional Tennessee recipe with cornbread and sausage
cranberry sauce - Debbie
gratin of winter greens - E&M
mashed sweet potatoes - E&M
pumpkin pie - E
butterscotch pudding with real scotch - M, made predawn. I think she likes an excuse to get the scotch out before breakfast
pecan pie - M
pumpkin cake - Debbie

But first, there was the hunt to see off...

There was even a group of 10 year old girls on little fat ponies that reminded us of our days hunting in CT.

After the hunt we were on to the big event. We were mostly ready, but the main attraction of the day, the moment we'd all been waiting for, the food without which no southern thanksgiving would be complete, the Deep Fried Turkey, was still to come. There had been a moment of panic the day before when it turned out that every grocery store in the township was sold out of peanut oil. Seems like peanut oil arbitrage could be a good business in November in Virginia.

Chris was in charge. Amos was his assistant. Kima helped where she could. There was beer. Coors Light.

Chris bought a propane powered deep fryer 3 Thanksgivings ago and is now the master of the deep fried bird. "Not my first rodeo" he declared when confronted with internet recommendations not to deep fry a bird over 14 pounds (ours was 19). "More art than science" he claimed when his friend suggested using a meat thermometer to measure doneness.

The dogs thought it was an extra special dog treat. Which in Margaret's house is not out of the question.

Here's how it went...

And here's how it came out...

A great southern thanksgiving.

lots of love, Elise

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Let's talk

Yes, you have to roast the meat and vegetables first, but you barely have to wash them, the carrots don't need to be peeled, the onions really don't either, and I turned my back on celery last year and haven't missed it. And everything roasts while you are out of the room, doing something more fun, like riding the bike trainer. Then it all goes into the pot or slow cooker, add your water, and again, you leave the room. I sometimes leave the house, even if it is on the stove, but then I don't leave the dogs in the house. If you are going to leave the house for the whole day, use the slow cooker. When it is done, you can lift the larger pieces out with a slotted spoon, so by the time you tip it into the colander, there aren't so many large pieces to splash all over. (psst- Apron) Set the colander over a bowl with a spout and handle. I eschew the whole cool and skim fat step. If it is really important to you to get rid of the fat, you can do that after it is frozen. Pour it into containers and freeze. Also, I don't obsess over every last drop. If there are a few tablespoons leftover, I give them to the dog.

There are a couple of things that are unclear. If you are using a copper pot heavy enough to break your wrists, how are you ending up with 2 cups of broth? I put a carcass, left over from roast chicken, in a 2 qt pot, scrape everything else out of the roasting pan--browned bits, onions, herbs--cover with water, cover and simmer for 4-6 hours and I end up with 2-3 cups of broth. One carcass. Although I have saved all the bones.

I think you could try a few alternatives. If you want to use the heavy pot and make a lot, use Mom's recipe with the three whole chickens that go in raw with your veg and simmer away. You can remove the breast meat after an hour and use it for something else. This is a production, but you should end up with several quarts of stock. It is a Contessa recipe, but still pretty good.

Or you could do the slow cooker method. If you make the slow cooker beef broth one time, I don't think you would ever go back to canned.

Also too? The broth is not masked in the stew, it makes the stew. It elevates it from Whitman Sampler to Maison du Chocolate. I actually think the final stew is so much better than just the broth alone. I'm never tempted to drink the broth. But the dogs think I should rub it on my body.

Friday, November 4, 2011

can we talk about this?

So here's my issue with homemade broth for stews and soups. It takes For Ever. Maybe I am doing much more than I need to, so I'm going to run my process by you.

First I roast the chicken parts if I've bought backs and necks, if not skip this step. In the pot go the chicken parts, the frozen carcasses I've saved up for a few months, some onion, celery, a bay leaf and some pepper corns. Water to cover, then cover the pot. Simmer, simmer, simmer. Add more water. Simmer more. By this time I have to leave the house or go to sleep so I turn it off and let it sit. Come back or wake up - simmer, simmer, simmer. Usually about 6 hours of simmering all told.

Off the heat, cool til handle-able, then set the colander over a bowl, break my wrists lifting the giant copper pot and trying to pour the soup out of it. Bones teeter at the angle of repose and then SPLASH down into the broth ruining whatever I am wearing. Push the bones around in the colander trying to get every precious drop out of them. Set soup in fridge to chill. Set colander over plate and let it seep for 20 minutes or so and add the last tablespoon of liquid to the bowl.When soup is set scape the fat off the top.

By this time I've invested easily a day and half and I just can't see wasting this nectar in a stew that is going to completely mask its lusciousness. I want to drink it by thimblefuls, or rub it on my skin, or save it so I can gloat over my incredible good fortune at having  a cup of the ambrosia.

Which brings me to my second beef. All this work, all that chicken, and I end up with at most 2 and a half cups.

Is this how you make it? And you still use it to cook with?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Slow Cooker Love

I'm in love with my slow cooker. He spends all day cooking me dinner. If I'm late, he keeps it warm for me. Whenever I walk into the house, it smells like someone has spent the day slaving away over a steaming cauldron. But not someone I have to talk to.

There is some front-loaded labor--the chopping, browning, sauteing, deglazing--but by 9AM all that is in the rear view mirror, even the dishes. Like an early workout, you sleep through most of it.

I know you have had a troubled relationship with your slow cooker, some disappointments and dashed expectations. (Expectations are resentments under construction)

I think there are a few reasons I feel such deep and enduring love for my slow cooker. (Love, not Stockholm syndrome) Not to bring up a sensitive subject, but I always use home made broth. (The slow cooker is a great way to make that broth, and it is an easy outing that can foster closeness and trust.) I rarely measure and usually add more of everything. (In yoga, more may not be better, it may be just more, but in cooking, more is always better)

And he is the only one who ever cooks me dinner. The dogs are great company and always willing to share the deer guts or horse manure, but they are hopeless with a saute pan, and I don't let them near the immersion blender!

Beef and Barley Soup

Cautionary Tale

We have a guest blogger today. My friend, Wynne, writing about her daughter.

This is what happens to little pregnant girls who leave an immersion blender plugged in while trying to get something out of it. 12 stitches in the emergency room,and can't take pain pills!