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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Latkes: Friend or Foe?


I have kind of a love hate relationship with latkes.  I really love to eat them.  They're delicious and at no other time of the year can eating fried food be as justified as it is on Hanukkah.  The problem is that they're a mess to make, and the house smells for days afterward.  Some of my friends make sweet potato latkes or zucchini latkes, but I'm kind of a purist when it comes to my potato pancakes.  Russet potatoes and onions.  No fancy latkes for me.

Latkes are a lot like Pittsburgh.  There's no one right way to get to your destination.  In Pittsburgh, you never actually can make a wrong turn.  There's always another way to get where you're going that probably won't add more than a minute or two to your commute time.  Latkes are the same in that there are a million variations on the theme, and all of them will produce a tasty pancake.

The truth is, I think it's the frying that makes the latkes as delicious as they are.  The real key to success is making sure your oil is very hot when you start and keeping it that way as you fry.  I use my very well seasoned cast iron frying pan to fry up the latkes.  Let's face it, there's just nothing like cast iron for browning.   I also think the latkes taste best right out of the frying pan, but I realize that's sometimes difficult to achieve if you're cooking for a crowd.   If I have to cook ahead, I fry them all up and then reheat the latkes in a 400 oven until they are crisp again.  I find the low temperature oven that is favored by so many people can actually make the latkes soggy, which is definitely not the result you want.

So, despite the greasy mess I will have to clean up, I will be making latkes for my family again this year.  And although I will only be making them for the four of us, it will be a lot like cooking for a crowd.  Charlie is home from college on his winter break, and he can eat like a crowd.  There's nothing like a son with a big appetite to make the  clean up worth it.

Potato Latkes

Ingredients:

5 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and grated
2 eggs, beaten
2 onions, grated
1/2 cup matzoh meal or flour
salt and pepper
vegetable or grapeseed oil for frying

Note:  My grandmother always grated the potatoes and onions by hand and my mother used the Manischewitz mix.  I split the difference and use the Cuisinart to grate the potatoes and onions.

Grate the potatoes and onions.  Place the grated potatoes and onions in a dish cloth or cheesecloth and squeeze out all the excess water.  The dryer you can get the potatoes and onions, the better your latkes will stay together in the frying pan.  Add the eggs and matzoh meal or flour.  If the mixture still seems a little loose, add a little more matzoh meal or flour.  Combine well.  Season with salt and pepper.

In a cast iron frying pan, over medium high heat, heat enough oil to cover the bottom.  When the oil is simmering, add potato mixture in dollops, depending on the size you want to make your pancakes.  I usually make them about 1 rounded tablespoon each.  Let them fry, without moving them for about 2 minutes, until the edges are golden brown.  Turn the pancakes and let them fry for about 1 minute more, until they are golden.  Remove pancakes from pan and place on paper towel lined racks to drain.  Repeat process with remaining potato mixture, adding more oil to the pan as necessary.

To reheat:  Place pancakes on a baking sheet and reheat in a 400 degree oven until they are crispy, about 5 minutes.

Serve hot with applesauce and sour cream.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Oh Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel

I must admit, Hanukkah has kind of snuck up on me this year.  I guess had I consulted my calendar sooner, I would have realized that it begins on Wednesday.  But I didn't, so our latkes are going to have to wait a couple of days so that I can get it together and buy some gifts.  Had I been more on top of it, I could have done some shopping for others while we were in New York over Thanksgiving.  Instead I bought myself shoes.  Live and learn.

Having said all that, to me nothing says Jewish holiday like a brisket.  It was my mother's "go to" Jewish meal and it's stuck.  I have to say, I love a good brisket and there are a million different variations so it never actually seems like you're eating the same thing over and over.  My current favorite take on brisket is one that my friend Mona passed along several years ago.  I've played with it a little so I guess this version belongs to me.  My family loves it.

The thing with brisket is that I think it really benefits from being cooked ahead.  Like a day or two ahead.  I just stick the whole pot in the refrigerator overnight.   This way I can easily skim the fat from the liquid.  Cooling the brisket makes it much easier to slice attractively as well.  I make the same recipe regardless of the size brisket I'm using.  If it's a smaller brisket I just have a little more sauce.

The really great thing about brisket is that you don't even need a Jewish holiday to enjoy it.  It's a great cold weather meal.  It's also great smoked in the summer, which is one of Ted's specialties.

So, in an effort to get this holiday up and running, I did pick up a brisket today when I was at the butcher.  I'm going to make it tomorrow and who knows, it may inspire me to get out and do some holiday shopping.  I hope.

My Favorite Brisket

Ingredients:

1 4-5 pound brisket
3 large onions cut in half and sliced
4 tablespoons ketchup
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups red wine
beef stock
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
6 carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal
1 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced thickly
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
garlic powder

Preheat oven to 325.

Heat  2 tablespoons of oil in a large dutch oven.  Add the onions and saute until they are very dark brown.  Add ketchup and cook together with the onions for 2 minutes. Remove onions from pot.  Generously season the brisket with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in the dutch oven.  Sear the meat on all sides. Remove the meat from the pot.  Add the wine and deglaze the pot, using a wooden spoon the scrape up the browned bits from the pot.

Return the meat and onion mixture to the pot and add the carrots and herbs.  Season with a little more salt and pepper.  Add enough beef stock so that the liquid comes up about 3/4 of the way over the meat and vegetables.  Bring to a boil.

Cover and place in the oven for about 3 hours, or until the meat is fork tender.

Cool and refrigerate overnight.  In the morning,  remove the meat from the pot and skim the fat from the surface of the braising liquid.  Slice the meat against the grain and return to the pot with the braising liquid.

In a separate skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and saute the mushrooms until they are soft.  Add to the pot with the meat and braising liquid.

Reheat over low heat until hot.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

It's All in the Technique

I have never been much of a risotto person.  It's not that I don't like it, because I do.  It's just that I don't like all the stirring.  I mean, who has that kind of time?  Risotto is delicious but also ranks a ten on the effort scale. So, I've either ordered it in restaurants or let someone else do the stirring.

But my moratorium on risotto making has come to an end.  The other week I picked up Ina Garten's new cookbook called How Easy is That?, and she has this incredible method for making risotto which involves just two or three minutes of actual stirring. That's right.  Just two or three minutes of stirring and then you have risotto.  It's magic.  I have to admit, but for my love of Ina, I might have dismissed this "quick risotto" out of hand.  But I thought I'd give it a try and see if it was all that.

There was only one problem.  I don't really like peas and the original recipe called for peas and parmesan as the main ingredients besides the rice.  What to do?  I started thinking about what I like in risotto and what I really like are wild mushrooms. And so I put together my own recipe and, if I do say so myself, the end result was pretty impressive.

I don't often tell you that you have to try something, but you really have to give this a try.  It will take risotto from being a rare entry on your dinner menu to something you can whip up just like that. And, once you have the technique down, which honestly will be no problem, you can add all sorts of other interesting things to it.  I know I'm going to.

Quick Risotto with Wild Mushrooms

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
4 cups simmering chicken stock (preferably homemade) divided
2/3 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
1/2 cup dry white wine
1- ounce dried morel mushrooms
1/2 pound fresh cremini mushrooms, sliced thickly
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 ounces pancetta or bacon, diced
1/2 cup shallots, chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350.

Place the dried morels in a bowl and pour two cups boiling water over them.  Set aside for 30 minutes.  Scoop the morels from the water, reserving 1 cup of the liquid.  Strain the liquid through a paper towel  and discard the gritty solids.  If some of the mushrooms are large, cut into 2 pieces,  Set aside the mushrooms and the strained liquid.

In a large Dutch oven, melt 6 tablespoons of the butter and saute the pancetta or bacon and shallots over medium high heat for 5 minutes.  Add the morels and cremini mushrooms and saute for another five minutes.  Add the rice and 3 cups of chicken stock, and the mushroom liquid to the pot.  Cover and bake for 45 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente.  Remove from the oven, add the remaining cup of chicken stock, the Parmesan, wine, 3 tablespoons of butter, salt and pepper, and stir vigorously for 2 to 3 minutes, until the rice is thick and creamy.  Serve hot.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Postscript: The Thanksgiving Sandwich

We all eat things that we are not particularly proud of.  For some, it's indulging in an entire pint of ice cream while standing at the kitchen sink.  For others, it's eating the frosting off of the leftover birthday cake (also done standing at the kitchen sink).  For me, it's the Thanksgiving sandwich.   This is something I have been making and consuming since I was a kid.  I'm sure lots of people make Thanksgiving sandwiches but to my knowledge no one has ever actually admitted to eating one.  Well, here I am.

My husband thinks the Thanksgiving sandwich is disgusting, but what does he know?  In fact, as far as I'm concerned, the Thanksgiving sandwich one of the major reasons to cook Thanksgiving in the first place.  In short, it's heaven in sandwich form.

There is no real recipe for the Thanksgiving sandwich.   It's actually something that evolves from year to year.  It really depends on how much and what you have left over after you've already had leftovers on Friday night.  Having said all that, here is what my ideal Thanksgiving sandwich would include, complete with building instructions.

Thanksgiving Sandwich

Ingredients:

Turkey
Stuffing
Yams
Gravy
Bread
Cranberry Relish
Vegetables (optional)
Pie

Building Instructions:

Layer one:
A nice slice of whatever bread you served at Thanksgiving

Layer two:
Turkey

Layer Three:
A little stuffing

Layer Four:
Another slice of bread soaked in gravy.  I call this the "super soaker."  Heat the gravy up before you start construction.

Layer Five:
Yams or whatever type of potatoes you served.

Layer Six:
Cranberry relish

Layer Seven: (Optional)
Vegetables.  I never include vegetables but if you're feeling health conscious, go for it.

Layer Eight:
Pie.  Pumpkin is best because it's actually a vegetable.

Layer Nine:
Another slice of bread.

I like to stick the whole thing in the microwave for a few seconds just to take the chill off.

I know what you're probably thinking, but don't knock it until you've tried it.  I promise you'll enjoy it (the sandwich and the couple of Alka Seltzers you'll take need afterward).

Next week we'll be back to the recipes you'll actually make.  Happy Black Friday and stay away from the mall!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Some Reasons to be Thankful

1.  I am thankful for Ted, Charlie and Kate.  And for Pebbles, our English bulldog.

2.  I am thankful for my family and for Ted's family.

3.  I am thankful for my lifelong friends and for all my friends I haven't known quite so long.

4.  I am thankful that at the ripe old age of 50 I am getting to reinvent myself as a blogger.  Who ever thought I could do this? Two months ago, all I could do on a computer was check my email and surf the tennis tournament schedule on USTA.com.  I still can't operate my iPhone, but I'm working on that.

5.  And, I am thankful to all of you for reading You Little Tarte.  By listening to me ramble you have made me feel very useful.  I hope to continue my commentary on all things food for a long time to come.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Is the Ultimate Really the Ultimate?

I am always worried when something is referred to as "the ultimate".  Does that mean that it's really the best? Things change.  Is it the ultimate forever or for just that moment in time.  I know, I know.  This is all a little deep for the day before Thanksgiving,  but I have to tell you something.  More than once I have proclaimed that I have purchased the ultimate shoes or handbag only to discover that there's a new ultimate the next season.  Need I say more?  (Ted says I should stop trying to buy the ultimate--there is no point.)

Having pondered all that, I have to say that I think these ginger cookies may be the ultimate and thus they are aptly named.  I don't even like ginger, and I love these cookies.  Kelly loves these cookies (although she did suggest chopping up the crystallized ginger a little more finely), and everyone who's tasted them loves these cookies.  They actually may be the ultimate ginger cookie.

I especially like these cookies at this time of the year.  They're not really a summer cookie.  They're more suited to the spicy, nutmeggy (is that a word?) autumn.  They taste spicy and warming all at the same time. They're delicious.

So, rather than going for the ultimate new shoes, save yourself some money and go for the ultimate in ginger cookies.  Your credit card will thank you.

Ultimate Ginger Cookies
(Barefoot Contessa Parties, 2006)

Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flout
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup unsulfured molasses
1 extra large egg, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups finely chopped crystallized ginger (6 ounces)
Granulated sugar, for rolling the cookies

Preheat the oven to 350.  Line 2 sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and salt and then combine the mixture with your hands.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the brown sugar, oil, and molasses on medium speed for 5 minutes.  Turn the mixer to low speed, add the egg, and beat for 1 minute.  Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula and beat for one minute more.  With the mixer still on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the bowl and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes.  Add the crystallized ginger and mix until combined.

Scoop the dough with 2 spoons or a small ice cream scoop.  With your hands, roll each cookie into a 1 3/4 inch ball and then flatten them lightly with your fingers.  Press both sides of each cookie in granulated sugar and place them on the cookie sheets.  Bake for exactly 13 minutes.  The cookies will be cracked on the top and soft inside.  Let the cookies cool on the sheets for 1 to 2 minutes, then transfer to the wire racks to cool completely.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Off the Hook

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I'm thinking that this is not the week for macaroni and cheese.  What I am thinking is that maybe I should try and keep it lighter at dinner so I won't feel as guilty as I reach for a second serving of stuffing.  As such, this is a week for salmon.

I used to love salmon and then I didn't.  Now I'm back to liking it because it's kind of the chicken of the fish family.  You can do almost anything to it and it still tastes pretty good.  Plus, it's full of all those healthy omega 3's and that's good.  So, in order to justify reckless abandon on Thursday, tonight we're having salmon.

For a long time I made a broiled salmon dish that had a mustard glaze on top.  It was delicious but I started feeling like all that mustard was a little heavy.  I began playing with the recipe I was using and came up with my own version of broiled salmon with mustard, which I am sharing with you below.  The addition of lemon juice and lemon zest gives the fish just the right lightness. I like it better than the original.

If 50 is the new 40, can't salmon be the new chicken?

Broiled Salmon with Mustard, Lemon and Herbs

Ingredients:

4 salmon fillets, about 6 ounces each, with  or without skin
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
3/4 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
3/4 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
3/4 teaspoon fresh dill, chopped
1 tablespoon white wine
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
salt and pepper

Preheat broiler.  Spray a broiler pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Sprinkle salmon fillets with salt and pepper and place on the broiler pan.  Broil the fish for 5 minutes.  In the meantime, combine the garlic, both mustards, rosemary, thyme, dill, wine, olive oil, lemon juice and zest in a small bowl.  Spoon the mustard mixture over the fish and continue broiling for another 5 minutes, until the top is golden brown and fish is cooked through.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Say Hello to Mr. Popover

Note:  There are two posts today.  Read on for "On the Side".

So, you have the turkey, the yams, the stuffing, a vegetable, and even the pies.  But you still need some kind of bread to complete the holiday spread.  Now, having gone to so much trouble to make all this delicious homemade food, are you really just going to slap some dinner rolls from the grocery store on the table?  I didn't think so.

Say hello to Mr. Popover, the perfect holiday bread.  I mean, how can you not love something so tall and puffy?  Popovers are absolutely my favorite aspect of any holiday meal.  If you've never made them before, you have missed out.  Now is your chance to make something that takes almost no effort and is a sure crowd pleaser.

If you have popover pans that's great, but you can also make them in Pyrex custard cups and they'll still be perfect. The great thing about popovers is that they are so easy.  There's only one rule: do not peek into the oven while they are baking.  That's it.  Just mix, pour, and popover.

You can mix the batter ahead of time and then just bake them off right before dinner.  I promise that no matter how many you make, they'll all be gone.  The good news is that since they're so simple to make, you'll always be able to make more!

Popovers
(Barefoot Contessa Parties, 2001)

Ingredients:

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus softened butter for greasing pans
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 extra large eggs, at rooms temperature
1 1/2 cups milk, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 425.

Generously grease aluminum popover pans or Pyrex muffin cups with softened butter.  You'll need enough pans to make 12 popovers.  Place the pans in the oven for exactly 2 minutes to preheat.  Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, salt, eggs, milk, and melted butter until smooth.  The batter will be thin.  Fill the popover pans less than half full and bake for exactly 30 minutes.  Do not peek

Note:  I transfer the batter from the mixing bowl into a large measuring cup to pour into the popover pans.

On the Side

I have to start by saying that I'm not usually all that creative about side dishes, even at the holidays.  I've never made a green bean casserole although I'm sure it's very delicious.  As I have mentioned, no one in my house gets excited about the veggies at Thanksgiving, so I have to admit I usually just make one so that I can at least look like I'm putting something green on the plate.  (Ted is offended that I have not pointed out that he loves vegetables and especially these brussels sprouts.  To be fair, I have yet to find any food item that Ted does not love.)

But I do love the look of brussels sprouts, especially when they are available on the stalk.  They're just so pretty.  I almost feel like I could use them as a centerpiece (and I'm sure it's been done).  And, like artichokes, you have to give the first person to have eaten them some credit.  They just don't look edible.  But, alas, they are and they're quite tasty.

You can do lots of things with them as well.  Brussels sprouts are delicious roasted with a little balsamic vinegar .  They are also really good when they are sauteed.  But my favorite preparation of this particular vegetable is in a chiffonade with poppy seeds.  They require a little more preparation than other recipes but they are absolutely divine.  And once you get them all cut up, the cooking goes very quickly.

You should definitely try this recipe for brussels sprouts if for no other reason than you can look chic and gourmet when you buy them on the stalk.  (The recipe works just fine if you buy them already separated but the stalk is nifty just the same.)

Not only is this a really good recipe, it's very light.  This is a good thing after all the stuffing, yams, and pie.  And, as an added bonus, you get to toss around the word "chiffonade" which will make you sound like quite the chef!

Brussels Sprouts Chiffonade with Poppy Seeds
(Bon Appetit, November, 2004)

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds fresh brussels sprouts, halved and cored
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon poppy seeds

Cut the brussels sprouts into thin (1/8 - 1/4 inch wide) shreds. Melt the better in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the brussels sprouts and todd until just beginning to wilt, about 5 minutes.  Add the lemon juice and poppy seeds; toss to blend.  Season with salt and pepper.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Take Your Time

I love my slow cooker.  In the old days, they were called crock pots, but now they've gotten really fancy and are called slow cookers.  Who knew that they would ever evolve into the high-tech-you-can-cook-anything-in-them appliances they are now.  I have the All-Clad, and it's fantastic.   I have to say that if you don't have a slow cooker, you should go out and get one.  Really. You don't even have to get one as fancy as mine.  They come with fewer bells and whistles than mine, and they all work just fine.

I have to admit, my slow cooker is kind of a seasonal thing.  I usually pull it out once the weather gets cooler and mostly on school nights.  Kate plays tennis after school every day, and I don't get home with her until about 6:45 p.m. Ted usually gets in around 7:00 or 7:15.  It's nice to have dinner ready to serve without pulling out every pot in the kitchen.  I feel a little like Suzy Homemaker when I use it, but I can live with that if it means I don't have to scour a frying pan at 8:30 at night.

Being the somewhat over enthusiastic person that I am, of course I went out and bought a bunch of slow cooker cookbooks when I originally started slow cooking.  Soon afterward, I realized that I could use any braised recipe and adapt it to the slow cooker. Anything that benefits from a long, slow braise is well suited to the slow cooker so don't feel like you have to rush out to Borders.

Having said all that, my favorite slow cooker cookbook is called The Gourmet Slow Cooker by Lynn Alley.  The recipes are incredibly easy and just delicious.  The recipe for Provencal Chicken Stew below is a favorite in my house.

If you don't have a slow cooker, I think this would probably work just as well if you cook it covered on the stove over a simmer until the meat is tender.

Provencal Chicken Stew
(The Gourmet Slow Cooker, 2003)

Note:  I usually throw a couple of extra half breasts into this recipe because my family likes breast meat.  

Ingredients:

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 chicken, cut into serving pieces, skinned
1/4 cup olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 (14 1/2 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade, for garnish
1 cup pitted kalamata olives, for garnish

Combine the 3/4 cup flour and the salt in a shallow dish or resealable plastic bag.  Add the chicken, coat with the flour, and shake off any excess.

Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat and add the oil.  Add the chicken pieces and cook, turning once, for 8-10 minutes, until browned on both sides.  Using tongs, transfer to paper towels to drain, then arrange in the bottom of a slow cooker.

Set the same saute pan over medium high heat and add the onion and the 2 tablespoons of flour.  Sate, stirring frequently, for 8 - 10 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Add the garlic and stir for 1 -2 minutes.  Add the wine and stir to scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Increase the heat to high and add the tomatoes and pepper to taste.  Cook, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes, until some of the tomato liquid evaporates.

Pour the onion mixture over the chicken in the slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low for 3 -8 hours, until the chicken is tender.  At 3 to 4 hours, the chicken will still be firm and hold its shape.  At 6 to 8 hours, the meat will be falling off the bone.

Divide the chicken among dinner plates and garnish with the parsley, basil, and olives.

I usually serve this with egg noodles.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pie in the Sky

So, we've talked about all the big entree items.  The turkey,  the stuffing, the yams, and the cranberries.  I haven't really gotten into the whole vegetable thing because, frankly, no one in my house even glances at them on the buffet table.  (Tomorrow I'll include a vegetable that I like because some of you might actually want to eat veggies along with your dinner.)  But now we're on to the star of the show, as far as I'm concerned.  We're on to dessert and the pie.

I have saved the best for last.   I love pie and I especially love the pies that are traditional at Thanksgiving.  I mean, what better way to cap off a completely gluttonous meal than with a dessert filled with more calories and then topped off with whipped cream.  Perfection.  Even though I am usually absolutely ill by the time the dessert rolls around, I can always find more room for, as my Grandma Mary would have said,  "a little something sweet".  Ted has always said that no matter how good the turkey is, everyone always oohs and aahs about the dessert.  He's right.  Dessert is the show stopper in a way that nothing else can be.

First a word about pie crust.  Don't let it intimidate you.  You're bigger and stronger that it is and you can do it.  You just have to own it and put yourself in charge.  Use your food processor to mix it and then roll it out on a heavily floured surface.  A pie crust that sticks to the counter is useless.  Make sure when you're rolling the crust out that you keep moving it around to prevent sticking.  And follow the instructions to keep it cold.  The refrigerator is your friend!

My favorite is pumpkin pie.  I never feel quite as bad about eating it as I would something like chocolate cake.  I mean, pumpkin's a vegetable, isn't it?  I'll admit, pie isn't a traditional serving of vegetables, but it's a veggie nonetheless.  And the great thing about pumpkin pie is that it's easy to make and can be prepared ahead of time since it needs to hang out in the refrigerator to firm up.  I also love pumpkin cheesecake, and it's the same deal as the pie.  Make it ahead and then just look forward to it.

Apple pie is another sure winner at Thanksgiving.  And here's the thing.  Everybody should be able to make an apple pie.  After all, it's about the most American dessert going.  If you can make a good apple pie, you're set not only for Thanksgiving but for Fourth of July and just about any other big bang up holiday.  There's no event where an apple pie wouldn't work.

Here are a couple of my favorite Thanksgiving pies.  Make one or make them all.  I promise you and your pies will be the star of the show.

*  Note:  I've been making these recipes for years and I've changed them up from the originals.  In some cases, I don't even remember where I got the original recipe so I'm going to claim them as my own.  I think that by now I get to.

Pumpkin Cheesecake
(Originally from Mary Sue Milliken & Susan Feniger but I've tinkered.  A lot.)

Ingredients:

Crust:

1/2 cup pecans
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup gingersnap crumbs (from about 20 cookies)
5 tablespoons butter, melted

Filling:

2 pounds cream cheese. softened
1 3/4 cups pumpkin puree
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
3 large eggs, room temperature

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 325.  Place the pecans and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely chopped, about 20 seconds.  Pour into a large bowl, add the gingersnap crumbs and mix.  Pour in the melted butter and stir to combine.  Turn mixture in to a 9-inch spring form pan.  Bake for 10 minutes and then set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer at low speed until soft and smooth, about 1 minute.  In another bowl, combine the pumpkin, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and ginger.  Again with the electric mixer, mix together well, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Add the pumpkin mixture to the softened cream cheese and mix thoroughly, scraping down the sides of the bowl, but do not over mix.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan, tapping the bottom gently on the courter to eliminate air packets.  Place the cake inside a large roasting pan and pour in very hot tap water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan.

Bake for 1 hour, or until the center feels firm when pressed. Immediately remove the cake pan from the water bath and set aside to cool on a rack.  Refrigerate at least four hours but overnight is better.

Remove from spring form pan to serve.

Pumpkin Pie

Pastry:
(Martha Stewart)

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 - 1/2 ice water

In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8-10 seconds.

With the machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through the feed tube.  Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than about 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together.  If it is crumbly, add a little more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Divide dough into two equal balls.  Flatten each ball into a disk, and wrap in plastic.  Transfer to the refrigerator, and chill at least 1 hour.  Dough may be stored, frozen, up to 1 month.

Filling:
(Me)

1 can (16 ounces) unsweeted solid pack pumpkin puree
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup dark molasses
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 375.

Roll one pastry disk into a 12-inch round.  Transfer to a 9 -10-inch pie pan.  Trim dough evenly along edge, leaving a 1/2 inch overhang.  Pinch to form a decorative edge.  Chill for 15 minutes.

To make the filling, in a large bowl, mix the pumpkin puree, brown sugar, flour, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt until smooth. Whisk in the eggs, cream, milk, molasses and vanilla.  Pour into prepared pie crust.  Bake 20 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 325 and bake until the filling no longer jiggles when pan is shaken, about 30 minutes longer.  Transfer to a rack to cool.

Serve immediately or refrigerate overnight.

Double Crust Apple Cranberry Pie
(Food & Wine)

Ingredients:

Use Pastry recipe above.

Filling:

1 1/2 pounds tart apples
1 cup fresh cranberries
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

On a floured surface, roll out one disk of pastry into an 11-inch round.  Transfer the round to a 9-inch pie pan and fit it against the bottom and sides without stretching.  Using a small sharp knife, trim the pastry flush with the rim.  Refrigerate the pie shell for 30 minutes.

Using a small sharp knife, peel, quarter and core the apples.  Slice them lengthwise 1/4 inch thick.   In a medium bowl, toss the apples with the cranberries, 3/4 cup of sugar, flour, orange zest, cinnamon and salt.  Mix well.  Pour the filling into the pie shell.  Dot with the butter.

Preheat the oven to 400.  Lightly moisten the edge of the pie shell with cold water.  Roll out the other disk of pastry into a 12-inch round and drape it over the pie. Trim the overhang to 1.2 inch. Tuck the excess dough under the rim of the bottom pie shell and press to seal.  Crimp decoratively.  Cut 3 or 4 steam vents in the top.  Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of sugar.

Bake the pie for 20 minutes.  Cover the rim with foil to prevent over browning.  Bake for 30 minutes more, or until the apples feel tender when a cake tester is inserted into the center of the pie.  Transfer to a rack to cool.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Coffee, Tea or Stew

Ted was out of town last week and I drank instant coffee.  Every morning.  That's right, I drank instant coffee.  The simple truth is that I cannot make a decent pot of coffee to save my life.  Here I am, a grown woman, who can pretty much whip up anything in the kitchen, and I cannot master the coffee to water ratio required to make drinkable coffee.  It's sad but true.

Ted has tried showing me how to do it more times than I can count.  I have googled "how to make coffee" several times.  I have even watched videos on You Tube.  But when it comes down to it, the coffee is always too strong or, more often, like "hot office beverage".

So, I stick with what I know.  I cook with it.  I add coffee as an ingredient to lots of things.  Coffee makes chocolate taste more chocolaty and in the case of the beef stew recipe below, it provides a slight bitterness that goes beautifully with the bourbon and beef stock.

The good news is that Ted doesn't go out of town for more than a day or two very often so I can be assured of a nice cup of coffee (which Ted makes flawlessly) every morning.  Just one more thing on the long list of reasons why I love him.

Beef Stew with Guinness
(Nathan Lippy)

This stew has a lot of liquid.  Serve it with crusty bread.

Ingredients:

2 pounds beef, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
2 tablespoons garlic, chopped
1 cup carrots, rough chop
1 large yellow onion, rough chop
1/2 cup celery, rough chop
1/2 cup Jack Daniels
2 cups potatoes, rough chop
2 pint cans Guinness
1 quart beef stock
4 fresh thyme sprigs
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
1/2 cup leftover coffee (we want the bitterness)
Drizzle of olive oil
Salt and pepper

In a large stockpot, heat up a drizzle of oliver oil over medium heat.  Add the beef and brown for about 5-7 minutes.

Once the meat is beautifully browned, add the garlic and the other vegetables except for the potatoes and caramelize until they have a bit of color (about 8-10 minutes).  Deglaze by adding the Jack Daniels to release the brown bits at the bottom of the pot.  The liquid will boil, loosening the caramelization and adding flavor back to the stew.  Cook for 1 minute.

Add all liquid, the whole sprigs of herbs (tie herbs together with some string), potatoes, some salt and pepper and reduce the heat to a simmer (the soup should have small bubbles rise on the sides of the pot) for 1 hour or longer until the meat is super-tender.

Serve steamy hot with ciabatta or a simple French baguette.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Get Your Gobble On

I have been avoiding talk about the bird.  I have to start by saying that I subcontract the cooking of the turkey out to Ted.  He doesn't mind being elbow deep in poultry.  I do.  And, Ted loves to have a job at Thanksgiving, and I'm down with that.

Ted is a master turkey cooker.  After a few missteps early in his turkey cooking career, he now pretty much has it down to a science. He's a brine guy.  He has a whole system which involves a large cooler and a garbage bag if he's cooking for a crowd.  If it's a smaller group, Ted uses my giant stock pot and most of the basement refrigerator.  It's quite a process.  And you know how men are. They can make changing a lightbulb a whole process. Ted, like most men, loves a process.  Need I say more?

But back to the bird.  I always go the fresh turkey route.  I have no idea if it's actually better than the frozen one you get at the grocery store, but it seems more festive to get the fresh one.  In any case, I order it from my man Mark the Butcher (10/26/10) and pick it up a day or two before the big event.

Then Ted gets to work.  He mixes his magic brine and lets Mr. Turkey luxuriate overnight in the salt and herbs.  What emerges on Thanksgiving morning is a plump bird, ready for the oven.  Ted then works his Ted magic with the butter and the herbs and into the oven the turkey goes.  To quote Ina, "How Easy is That"? (Well, actually it's pretty easy for me because I don't have to do anything besides complain about the huge mess Ted makes while prepping the turkey.)

This is where Ted has had problems in the past.  The roasting. More than once he was absolutely sure that the turkey was cooked to perfection.  Upon carving, it was revealed that perhaps a little longer in the oven would have been the way to go.  But, after I threatened divorce, Ted now has the timing down.  I have also finally agreed to just let Ted do his thing and not ask 1,000 times if he's sure the turkey is actually cooked.  The turkey comes out a beautiful golden shade and cooked just right.

I think the brining is the key to the turkey.  Give it a try.  I'd send Ted over to help out but maybe your husbands will enjoy the "process".  Then you can just stand back and complain about the mess.


Ted's (looks more complicated than it is) Turkey Recipe
(Note:  Ted is a lawyer and you will see what I mean when you read this)

Step by Step Instructions:


This recipe assumes a 12-14 lb turkey.  If you need or want more meat, you can cook a bigger turkey and adjust the ingredients and time appropriately or, if you have a lot of oven space, you can make two turkeys in this size range.  Generally smaller turkeys cook better.
1. Remove the neck and giblets from the turkey (reserving if using for gravy).  Rinse the turkey well and then put it in a container with 2 cups salt and enough cold water to cover fully, normally 4 to 8 quarts.  (As noted above, I normally use a stockpot for this process, although any container including a sealable bag will work.)  Feel free to be creative here—I frequently replace some or all of the water with apple cider.  You can add herbs and spices as well, turkey appropriate ones such as thyme, sage, black pepper, garlic.  Let it soak overnight.
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
3. Remove the turkey from the brine.   Rinse well inside and out (you do not want to leave any excess salt deposits), and then pat dry with a towel.  I do not stuff the turkey with stuffing.  Instead, I fill the turkey cavities with one peeled and quartered onion, 2 celery ribs cut into 2 inch pieces, one quartered lemon, and several thyme sprigs.  (This may not all fit—squeeze  in as much as you can and do not forget the smaller cavity in the back.)
4. Soften a stick of butter.  Blend butter thoroughly with finely minced garlic (2 cloves), lemon zest from one lemon (you can use the lemon that is going into the turkey), and 1 tsp black pepper.  Again, feel free to add other herbs and spices as you desire.  Smooth butter paste over outside of turkey skin, gently to avoid tearing the skin.
5. Cover a v-shaped roasting rack with aluminum foil.  Poke holes in foil.  Put rack in a roasting pan.  Place turkey breast side down in the rack.   (If you plan on deglazing the roasting pan for gravy, add to the roasting pan any leftover ingredients that did not fit in the cavity and enough chicken stock to fully cover the bottom of the pan.)  Roast for 45 minutes.  Take turkey out of oven (closing oven door to keep temperature up) and turn breast side up.  Clean potholders can be a good tool for this purpose.  (Add some more chicken stock to the bottom of the pan at this point.)  Return to oven.
6. Roast until instant thermometer reads 160-165 degrees in thickest part of breast and 170-175 degrees in thickest part of thigh.  Measure both sides to make sure.  I’d love to indicate how long this will take, but it has been unpredictable in my experience.  Allow two hours but start checking every 15 minutes or so after an hour.
7. Remove from oven.   Cover loosely and let rest for at least 30 minutes before carving.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Three Little Ingredients

I have to admit, Paula Deen is one of my guilty pleasures.  I mean, how can you not love her?  There aren't a lot of people around who cook with that much butter and then make no apologies.   Paula owns it.  In fact, I think Paula is the only woman in America who can actually remove the nutritional value from a food.  It's a gift.  She's just fine with a couple of extra pounds if it means that she can slather up a biscuit with butter and honey.  We could all take a lesson.

My friend Karen from California just sent me an email with this recipe for  Paula Deen's sour cream muffins.  I have totally missed the boat on these.  How did I never hear about this recipe?  I watch Paula on the Food Network, and I always take special note of things like muffins.  Maybe she never demonstrated these because I am sure I would have noticed.  But I digress, these muffins are really something.  Apparently, at Karen's synagogue holiday boutique last week, they baked up a batch just before lunch and no one could resist them.  I can see why.  Three little ingredients and a whole lot of happy.

Obviously, these muffins are not for the calorie conscious.  Butter. Sour Cream.  Need I say more?  At least they're not fried.  But come on.  Live a little. As I said, we could all take a lesson from Paula.

Paula Deen's Sour Cream Muffins

Ingredients:
2 cups self-rising flour
2 sticks butter, melted
1/2 pint sour cream

Preheat the oven to 350.  Combine all ingredients and spoon into small, un-greased muffin tins.  Bake for 20-30 minutes.  Cool on a rack.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I Yam What I Yam

I have to be honest.  I cannot come up with anything particularly pithy to say about yams.  I mean, it's a yam. This is not to say that I don't love yams and sweet potatoes because I do.  They are delicious and can be really decadent.  They have the added bonus of having some real nutritional value, although I do question how healthy they can really be once you've added a couple of sticks of butter and a pound of brown sugar.  And marshmallows.

Here's the thing about yams and sweet potatoes.  They are really just a vehicle for all the yummy goo that we put on top of them. This is not a bad thing.  In fact, if you think about it, they're perfect.   Tasty on their own, a la "I'm being healthy today," and a dessert for dinner at a holiday.  And, they're Paula Deen's favorite vegetable.  That is, when she adds a couple of sticks of butter and a pound of brown sugar.  And marshmallows.  And maple syrup. Paula is only woman in American who can actually remove the nutritional value from a food.  It's a gift.

So, here we are, looking forward to Thanksgiving and the ever famous yam (or sweet potato -- is there a difference?) and marshmallow casserole.  That's one approach.  But I say, if you're going to have dessert with dinner, go all the way.  Here are a couple of my favorites.

Garnet Yams with Blis Maple Syrup and Maple Sugar Streusel
(Bon Appetit,  November, 2008

Yams:

3 1/2 pounds slender garnet yams or other yams
1/4 cup Blis maple syrup or other maple syrup
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Streusel:

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup maple sugar (scant 3 ounces)
1/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For yams:

Butter 13x9x2 inch glass baking dish.  Preheat oven to 375.

Peel yams; cut 1 inch off ends and grate to make 1/2 cup.  Discard ends.  Cut remaining whole yams into 1/3 inch thick rounds.  Arrange yam rounds in 4 overlapping lengthwise rows in prepared baking dish.

Bring 1/2 cup water, maple syrup, butter, and cider vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan.  Stir in 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 3/4 teaspoon pepper.  Pour maple syrup mixture over yams,  Cover baking dish tightly with foil.  Bake yams covered until almost tender, about 40 minutes.  Increase oven temperature to 400.

For streusel:

Mix first 4 ingredients in a small bowl.  Mix in reserved 1/2 cup of grated yam.  Add melted butter and mix in to form moist clumps.

Sprinkle streusel over the yams and bake uncovered until yams are very tender and streusel is golden and slightly crisp, about 35 minutes longer.  Serve warm.

Smashed Sweet Potatoes with Apples
(Barefoot Contessa Parties, 2001)

Ingredients:

4 pounds sweet potatoes (about 6 large)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

For the topping:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 McIntosh or Macoun apples, peeled, cored, and cut into eighths
3 tablespoons light brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 375.

Scrub the potatoes, prick them several times with a knife or fork, and bake them for 1 hour, or until very soft when pierced with a knife.  Remove from the oven and scoop out the insides as soon as they are cool enough to handle.  Place the sweet potato meat into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and add the orange juice, cream, butter, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and pepper.  Mix together until combined but not smooth, and pour into a baking dish.

For the topping, melt the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the apple wedges and brown sugar and cook for about 5 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned on both sides.  Place on top of the sweet potatoes.

Bake the potatoes and apples for 20-30 minutes, until heated through.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dirty Little Secrets

Ted is out of town this week, and that means I don't have to cook. Well, not literally, but it's just us girls around here, and we don't require a "meat plus two" like Ted prefers.  Honestly, if not for Kate, I would eat eggs for dinner.  Or popcorn.  Or ice cream.

So, here we are.  Total culinary freedom.  This means crusty beef casserole.  In fairness, Ted likes it too so he might feel a little left out when he finds out it made an appearance in his absence. That'll teach him not to go to New York and leave me home.  So there.

Crusty beef casserole harkens back to my childhood.  My mother fell in love with casseroles when I was very young, and crusty beef, in particular, was a big favorite in our house.  It's actually one of the few things my mother made well.  This is probably because it required little real cooking.  Nonetheless, both my sister and I have taken this casserole on the road and with us into adulthood.

Once when I was describing crusty beef to my friend Suzanne, she said "oh, casserole."  It turns out that most every family had its "signature" casserole.  How did I not know this?  Some families went the tuna noodle route, others went for the scalloped potatoes and ham.  But it's clear to me now, after polling many of my friends, that almost everybody had their "dirty little secret" casserole.  It's that guilty pleasure that no one talks about. Casserole is sort of uncool but we all love it.  Everyone makes theirs a little differently and calls it something different.  Charlie, who is in college in Minnesota, informs me that Minnesotans call casserole "hot dish," and they like to include tater tots among the ingredients.  Same horse, different color.

The really great thing about crusty beef is that I'll bet you have most of the ingredients already in the house.  And if you don't have fine egg noodles, no problem.  Use whatever noodles or other pasta you have around.  Same with the cheese and the sauce.  If you prefer, use ground turkey instead of ground beef. Anything goes.  Here's your opportunity to create your own signature dirty little secret.  Run with it!



Patti's Famous Crusty Beef Casserole
(Well, it's famous in our family anyway.)

Ingredients:

1 pound ground meat (beef or turkey)
2 24-ounce jars Marinara Sauce
12-16 ounces fine egg noodles (whichever comes in the package)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
Enough olive oil to lightly coat the skillet

Preheat the oven to 350.

Put a large pot of water on to boil.  Cook the noodles according to the package instructions.  Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet heat a little olive oil.  Over medium heat, saute the onion until they're translucent and then add the garlic.  Saute 1 minute more.  Add the Beef (or turkey) and saute with the onions until browned.  Add the marinara sauce and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

In a 9x13 oven dish, ladle a little of the sauce in the bottom, just enough to lightly cover.  Spread about half of the noodles over the sauce in an even layer.  Ladle about half of the remaining sauce over the noodles and then sprinkle half of the cheese over that.  Repeat the pasta and sauce layers, ending with the remaining cheese.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until bubbly and crusty on top.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bread or Cornbread: That is the Question

I'm a cornbread girl.  It's funny because I would have never pegged myself as a cornbread lover.  I usually go for the very sophisticated artisan breads and scoff when a mediocre baguette is served in a restaurant.  But there's something about the crumbly texture of cornbread that's, I don't know, comfy.  And isn't that what Thanksgiving is all about?

All of this is not to say that I don't think bread stuffings can be tasty as well.   I love the recipes that cater to my need to have "interesting" bread.  Olive bread, focaccia,  peasant, these breads can all make really special additions to the Thanksgiving spread. The plain white bread?  Not so much. The whole wheat bread?  Not so much either.

So, you ask, what makes a great stuffing?  I think a great stuffing is a lot like throwing a great party.  It's all in the details.  No one talks about a party where the table is set with paper plates and the food is brought out in disposable casserole dishes.  No.  We all kvell (that's oohing and aahing for the non Yiddish speakers among you) over the pretty napkins and flowers and the presentation of the food.  Now, in the case of stuffing, the details that make the difference are the ingredients.  Stuffing is one of those foods where the more ingredients the merrier.  More is more and more is better.  Lots of chopped celery and onions, herbs, sausage or oysters, if you're so inclined, even some fruit and nuts. And, don't be afraid to use that homemade chicken stock, if you have it on hand.  You can use the boxed stock, but hey this is a holiday.  Go for it.   Think of stuffing as a party in a casserole dish. Everybody is there mingling and they're all having a great time.

And, don't be afraid to experiment.  If you find a bread stuffing that sounds good but, like me, you go for cornbread, switch it up. The nice thing about stuffing, and Thanksgiving in general, is that everything works.  As long as you get the turkey cooked properly, everything else is up for grabs.

Speaking of Mr. Butterball,  some people like to cook their stuffing in the bird and some outside of the bird.  I go for the outside the bird approach because it leads to a crispier stuffing and a properly cooked turkey.  But, if you love the cooked in the bird stuffing, who am I to judge?

So, get ready to throw yourself a party in a casserole dish.  You can even start the party a day or two before Thanksgiving.  The flavors will all mingle together in the refrigerator.  And, you'll get to start celebrating early.

Cranberry Cornbread Stuffing
(Epicurean)

2 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 pound sausage meat
8 cups cornbread (recipe follows)
2 large red Delicious apples, peeled, cored, and sliced (about 3 cups)
2 celery stalks, diced (about 1/2 cup)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
2 teaspoon leaf thyme, crumbled
2 teaspoons leaf marjoram, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon salt
14 teaspoon pepper
1/2 - 3/4 cup chicken stock

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine cranberries, water and sugar in a medium size saucepan. Bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Drain well.  Transfer to a large bowl.  Saute sausage in a medium size skillet, breaking it up into small pieces, until lightly browned and no longer pink, about 5 minutes.  Drain excess fat.  Combine with cranberries in the bowl.  Add cornbread, apples, celery, onion, and seasonings to cranberry sausage mixture.  Add enough chicken stock to slightly moisten the mixture.  Toss gently to mix.

Spoon stuffing into a greased shallow 4 1/2 quart baking dish. Bake, covered in aluminum foil, for 45 minutes, or until heated through.  Uncover for last 10 minutes for a crispy top.

Cornbread
(Williams-Sonoma)

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 375.  Butter a 9-inch square cake pan.

Sift together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a bowl.  In another bowl, whisk the milk, sour cream, oil, and egg.  Fold into the flour mixture; do not over mix.  Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool.  Break into large crumbles for the stuffing.

Herb and Apple Stuffing
(Ina Garten, 2003)

16 cups 1 inch bread cubes, 2 baguettes
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups medium diced yellow onion (2 large)
2 cups medium diced celery (3 large stalks)
2 Granny Smith apples, unpeeled, cored and large diced
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary leaves
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup sliced blanched almonds, toasted, optional

Preheat the oven to 300.

Put the bread cubes on a 13x18x1 inch baking sheet and bake them in the oven for 7 minutes.

Raise oven temperature to 350.

In a large saute pan, melt the butter and add the onion, celery, apples, parsley, rosemary, salt and pepper. Saute for 10 minutes, until the mixture is soft.

Combine the bread cubes and cooked vegetables in a large bowl and add the chicken stock and almonds, if desired.  Gently combine.

Place the stuffing in a large buttered casserole dish and bake at 350, covered in foil, for about 45 minutes, or until heated through. Remove foil and bake 10 more minutes for a crispy top.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Woman's Work is Never Done

I wish I could be one of those people who wakes up on Monday morning raring to go.  You know the type who sees Monday as an opportunity to start anew and conquer everything that got left behind the week before.  That would not be me.  The fact is, I hate Mondays.  It's hard, after what is usually a busy weekend, to get up early and face the week.    And, even more than facing the week, it's hard to face my house and what a mess everything is.  Frankly, sometimes it looks like a tornado has blown through.  There's stuff everywhere that everyone has left around knowing I would pick it all up on Monday morning.  It's a mess.

So, my Monday started, as usual, with the laundry.  The laundry has to be, hands down, the most thankless task on my agenda , and probably on yours as well.  For a small person, Kate sure has a lot of dirty clothes.  She seems to need to change multiple times every day.  If, for some reason, the ensemble isn't to her liking (and she's 15 so nothing is to her liking), into the hamper it goes, having never traveled farther than her mirror.  Why should she fold it if I can wash it and then fold it for her?  In short, I feel like I could do the laundry continually and never actually have an empty hamper to show for my efforts.  Laundry is like the Energizer Bunny.  It just keeps going and going.  It never ends.

And then there are the bathrooms.  And the kitchen.  Need I say more?

All this fun happens before I even make a list and hit the grocery store.  I could probably go to the grocery store any other day of the week, but somehow it always happens that Mondays are the day we are running low on milk, and everything else for that matter.

The good news in all of this is that all the cleaning and laundry really build up my appetite, and I feel like I deserve something really delicious for dinner.  It's been a little cool lately and it seems like a good night for pasta bolognese.  I just happened to have recently picked up Ina's new cookbook How Easy is That, and there's a really quick and easy bolognese.

Miracle of miracles, I have all the ingredients in the house for the bolognese!  It took me about 30 minutes to put it together and it tastes like it was simmering on the stove all day.  Absolutely delicious!  It's creamy, with just a hit of heat, just the way a good bolognese should be.

You should give it  a try.  I think we all deserve something special for dinner tonight.

Weeknight Bolognese
(Barefoot Contessa How Easy is That, 2010)

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 pound lean ground sirloin
4 teaspoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/4 cups red wine, divided
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3/4 pound dried pasta, such as orecchiette or small shells
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat,  Add the ground sirloin and cook, crumbling the meat with a wooden spoon, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the meat has lost its pink color and has started to brown.  Stir in the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute more.  Pour 1 cup of the wine into the skillet and stir to scrape up any browned bits.  Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper, stirring until combined.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt, a splash of oil, and the pasta, and cook according to the directions on the box.   While the pasta cooks, finish the sauce. Add the nutmeg, basil, cream, and the remaining 1/4 cup wine to the sauce and simmer for 8 - 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened.  When the pasta is cooled, drain and pour into a large serving bowl.  Add the sauce and 1/2 cup Parmesan and toss well.  Serve hot with Parmesan on the side.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Kate in the Kitchen

This morning Ted and Kate made breakfast.  Ted used to cook a lot more than he does now, but occasionally he gets out the breakfast cookbooks and rustles us up some breakfast.   When he does cook, he's a whiz on the BBQ (people come from miles around for his ribs) and his second best meal is breakfast.

Kate has recently discovered the kitchen for more than just grabbing snacks.  She's become quite the Saturday night gourmet. After a very busy week, sometimes she prefers to stay home on a weekend night while we go out for dinner.  In the past, she has stuck pretty much with the Trader Joe's frozen entrees, but lately she's become far more adventurous and ambitious.  She has a new favorite sandwich she likes to make.  It consists of homemade bread, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, grated aged cheddar, and sopresseta salami.  Pretty nice, huh.  And to top it off, last night she made herself some homemade lemonade with fresh squeezed lemon juice and simple syrup, which she made herself, all topped off the a lemon wedge as a garnish.   I'm so proud.

So, back to the breakfast.  They made pumpkin waffles because it's autumn and we love pumpkin around here.  Ted acted as sous chef.  No mixes for the Rosenthals, Kate was busy measuring and mixing.  And, I have to say, topped off with a little maple syrup, the waffles were absolutely delicious.

Now I'm going to get her to make me one of those sandwiches.  I think she has a future.

Pumpkin Waffles
(Waffles by Betty Rosbottom, 2005)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
18 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of nutmeg
1 cup milk
3/4 cup cooked pumpkin puree
2 large eggs, separated
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat the waffle iron.  In a large bowl, stir together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg.  In another bowl, whisk together the milk, pumpkin puree, and egg yolks until completely blended.  In a small bowl, beat the egg whites until firm, but not stiff.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the milk/egg mixture, blending gently only until the ingredients are combined. Add the butter in a slow stream, continuing to blend until the butter is incorporated.  Gently fold in the egg whites.

Pour a generous 1/2 cup of the batter (or more depending on the size of your waffle iron) into the waffle iron and, using a metal spatula or knife, spread the batter to within 1/2 inch of the edge. Close the cover and cook approximately 3 minutes,  or until crisp and golden brown.  Serve immediately with topping of your choice.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Little Thank You

Well, this is really fun.  I can't believe I was nervous about launching You Little Tarte.  Everyone has been so nice and so supportive.  Why didn't I do this years ago?

Did I ever mention how I finally came to push the publish button? I have Gwyneth Paltrow to thank.  That's right, Gwyneth Paltrow. I get her weekly blog, GOOP, and a while back there was an article about which food blogs Gwyneth enjoyed reading.  G.P. is cool so I took a look at the blogs she likes.   After all, she and I have so much in common. We're both mothers, we both like to cook.  Okay, so maybe not so much in common, but we do have two things in common.  Anyway, the other blogs were fun and I said to myself," I can do that".  And that's it. I had been waiting to find "my idea" and Gwyneth, with the impossibly thin thighs and chic outfits, led me to my idea.  Thank you Gwyneth.  Let's do lunch.

Here are a couple of the things I really like about writing You Little Tarte.

I get to talk about food and cooking, and just about anything else I want.  This is particularly nice because, while Ted and the kids are happy to be the recipients of my handiwork in the kitchen, I'm not always sure they want to hear about my love affair with my Le Creuset dutch oven.  (They sometimes look a little glazed over but I just keep talking.)

By now, you know who Ted, Kate, and Charlie are.  You've met a couple of my friends, heard all about why I love Ina Garten.  You know all about Deborah's new Dior boots and that Mona and Emily make really good muffins.  And, there's more where that came from.  Just wait.

One of the really nice aspects of all this fun is that I've gotten to connect with people I haven't seen in, well, forever.  My long lost best friend from junior high,  Karen,  has been reading the blog and even sent me a cookbook to try out, California Kosher.  There are a bunch of delicious sounding kugel recipes that I have to try  This may call for a Salute to Kugel.  I can hardly wait.  Karen and I were, as Kate would say, besties, back at Mulholland Junior High School in Van Nuys, California.  We once slathered ourselves with baby oil and baked in the sun for six hours.  (What can I say, times were different.  No one worried about things like skin cancer.)

 I guess the point of all this is that I just want to say thank you for reading You Little Tarte.  I also want to thank you in advance for passing it along to all of your friends (and even people who aren't your friends)  who you think might also enjoy it.  There's strength in numbers!!  In just three weeks  we've had over 800 hits and lots of email subscriptions.  This is amazing.  I am woman, hear me roar!

So, let's keep in touch.  Let me know if there's anything you would like to read about.  I'm just learning about this whole blog thing, so I'm open to all thoughts and suggestions.  I have to say, if you're having half as much fun reading this as I am writing it, well, we're all doing better than fine.

Today I went looking for my standard chocolate chip cookie recipe and came across this one for Peanut Butter Toffee Cookies instead.   I had a couple of leftover Heath bars from last week's Halloween Bark, so in an effort to be "thrifty,"  and use what I had in the house, I whipped these up.  They're delicious.  Let me know what you think.


Peanut Butter Toffee Cookies
(Martha Stewart, 2009)

Ingredients:

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/6 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 large egg
2 chocolate covered toffee candy bars (1.4 oz. each), chopped

Preheat the oven to 350.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt.

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on high speed, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add peanut butter and egg; beat until smooth.  With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture.  Stir in toffee.

Using 1 level table batter per cookie, drop onto baking sheets about 1 inch apart; flatten slightly with a fork.  Bake until edges are golden, 16-18 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer cookies immediately to a wire rack to cool completely.

Thanksgiving on My Mind: Bogged Down

Last summer we were in Cape Cod, and we stopped by one of the oldest cranberry bogs in America.  It was exciting for me because I love all things cranberry and somewhat annoying to Charlie and Kate when I made them pose for pictures near the bog.  Nonetheless, our visit to the bog was cool because I had never actually seen a cranberry bog before except on the Ocean Spray commercials.

Anyway, the point of all this is that I think the cranberry is a very misunderstood fruit and that's why I'm starting my Thanksgiving "coverage" with it.  The cranberry is kind of sour, and that's off putting to some people.  It also really only makes one major appearance a year, that is at Thanksgiving.  And, because it has to share the show with the stuffing and the yams, it's kind of like the ugly stepsister to the most popular girl at the lunch table. Cranberries are tolerated but mostly ignored.

What a bummer because cranberries are so delicious.   They are yummy not only as a relish, but also in stuffings, cookies, and quick breads.  And, cranberry juice is, of course, famous for being a key component in every single girl's favorite cocktail, the Cosmopolitan.

Cranberry sauce is a classic at Thanksgiving.  One of the great things about cranberry sauce is that it benefits from being made ahead of time.  The longer it sits, the more the flavors can meld together.  It also gets more gelatinous, which is nice too. Sometimes I even make more than one kind, maybe one that is cooked and another that is not.  Here are a couple of my favorites. If you have leftovers, try using it as a spread on toast.  That way you can have a taste of Thanksgiving after the other leftovers are long gone.

Cranberry Grape Compote
(Martha Stewart)

Ingredients:

1 12-ounce package fresh cranberries
3 cups seedless red grapes
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

In a large saucepan, over medium-high heat, bring cranberries, grapes, sugar, and 1/2 cup water to a boil.  Reduce heat, and simmer until most of the cranberries have popped and the grapes are falling apart, 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove from the heat; add the salt to the cranberries and stir to combine.  Let cool to room temperature (compote will thicken as it cools).  Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Dried Cherry and Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups cranberry juice cocktail
2 cups dried cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 12-ounce package fresh cranberries
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Bring cranberry juice to a simmer in a heavy, large saucepan. Remove from heat.  Add dired cherries and let stand for 10 minutes.  Mix in sugar, cranberries, and cloves.  Cook over medium-high heat until cranberries pop, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Chill until cold.  Sauce will thicken as it cools.

Cranberry-Apple Chutney
(Martha Stewart Living, 2010)

Ingredients:

1 cup unfiltered cider vinegar'1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 red onion, finely chopped
3/4 cup mixed dried fruit, such as currants, golden raisins, and chopped prunes
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
10 whole cloves crushed with the side of a knife (1/2 teaspoon)
2 whole cinnamon sticks
12 ounces fresh cranberries

Bring vinegar, sugar, onion, dried fruit, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon sticks to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Cook, stirring until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.  Add cranberries.  Reduce heat to medium, and simmer gently until cranberries are tender and start to burst, 10 to 15 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl, and let stand until cooled. Refrigerate.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Turkey and Dysfunction

It's November and you know what that means.  It's almost time for the home and hearth of Thanksgiving, when the family gathers around the table for a good, healthy serving of holiday dysfunction. There's nothing quite like gathering the troops to make you eat and drink with reckless abandon.

I actually love Thanksgiving, as I think most people do.  My parents are both gone, and my sister lives across the country, so we hit the Pennsylvania Turnpike for New Jersey and my cousins. Thanksgiving with my cousins is fun.   I am not kidding you.   This year, Gloria and Phil are hosting, and Gloria knows how to throw a party, even if the guest of honor is a turkey.  I'm excited, Charlie and Kate are excited, and even Ted, who is more reserved about such things than I am, is pumped.  As I said, I love Thanksgiving.

But, I do know first hand that it can be a lot of work being the host.  There's the cooking, the cleaning, the set-up and the clean-up.  There's the family drama, both unspoken and spoken far too loudly.  Let's face it.  Whenever you get a group of people together who have a lifetime worth of history, sparks will fly.  I know this from personal experience.

So, I want to make it easier for you.  Even though I'm not cooking this year, I have been in your shoes and I want to help.  (Don't I sound understanding?)  No, I can't come to your house to do the cooking, nor can I  clamp my hand firmly over your mother's mouth when she says "I know you didn't ask my opinion, but..." What I can do is give you some of my favorite recipes along with a couple of tips for making the whole ordeal as painless as possible.

Planning ahead is the key.

Start with the guest list.  Think about how many people you can comfortably serve.  No one really wants to try and eat a big Thanksgiving meal either on their lap or on the floor.  We're grown-ups here.  Make sure you have a place for everyone to sit comfortably.  If you have to invite more people than you have seats for, rent  or borrow some tables and chairs.  Believe me, your guests will thank you.  Only once you have figured out how many people you are having can you decide how much of what you are serving so invite everyone first thing.

Next you can plot out your menu.  The nice thing about Thanksgiving is that it's pretty formulaic.  There's the bird, the stuffing, potatoes or yams,  cranberries, a vegetable, and the pie. Decide on what you want to serve before dinner with drinks (and what you are going to drink, for that matter).  All the magazines with the Thanksgiving recipes have already arrived.  Lack of information is not an excuse to put this off.

Start your shopping list.  For me, there is absolutely nothing worse that hitting the grocery store the Monday before Thanksgiving with a shopping list two pages long.  Invariably, you'll forget some of your weekly staples because you're distracted by trying to locate the crystalized ginger.  And you'll forget the canned pumpkin for the pie because in the ordinary course you never buy canned vegetables and that's where the pumpkin is.  Then you'll have to haul back to the market and fight the crowds all for just a couple of items.  Get to the liquor store as far in advance as possible. After all, the family is gathering.  You'll need lots of booze.

What I like to do with the shopping is spread it out.  Pick up the staple items the next time you go to the grocery store.  You can even pick up the potatoes and the onions a week or so in advance. Believe me, they're probably the same potatoes and onions you'll buy closer to the holiday.  If you do it right, your big shopping right before the holiday should be limited to just perishable items.   Order your turkey in advance for pick-up on Tuesday or Wednesday of Thanksgiving week.

Now start thinking about the party itself.  Believe it or not, your guests are going to pay more attention to what everything looks like than how it all tastes, not that your meal won't be delicious.   I always say, if you have a great handbag and shoes, you can wear jeans from Target and no one will notice.  (I'm not comparing your Thanksgiving to Target.  I am comparing it to the really chic shoes and bags.)  It's a holiday.  Bring out the big guns.

Get out the crystal and china.  Why do you have it if you never use it?  Now is a good time to use all that stuff you registered for when you got married.  As my friend Deborah says "What? Are you going to be buried with it?"  Use it.  Enjoy it.  If you don't have enough of the good stuff, supplement with something you already own that mix and matches well.  If you're not into the "eclectic" thing, rent whatever you need.  It's not expensive, and you don't even have to wash anything before returning it.

The same is true of table linens.  If you don't have enough matching napkins, (and for heavens sake, it's a holiday, use cloth) rent something special.  My friend Susie owns a linens company, and they have many more choices than I have at home.  A good linens place can help you give your party a really special look. And again, you don't have to wash anything before you send them back so it'll cut down on your post party work.

Think about your centerpiece for the table.  If you're doing flowers, order far in advance.  You may be able to have them delivered which, as far as I'm concerned, is reason enough to order flowers in the first place.

Finally, make sure you have all the serving platters and bowls you'll need.  There's nothing worse than finding out that you don't have enough bowls ten minutes before you're sitting down to dinner.  Use large platters and bowls.  It makes everything look more sumptuous.

Remember, your guests will have a better time if you're actually at the party and not trapped in the kitchen the whole time.  (That is, unless you prefer it that way, and I'm not judging you.)  If you are well organized, you might even manage to have some fun.

This is just a little guide to help you get started with your planning. There's more to come, I promise.  In the meantime, here's my favorite (and foolproof)  recipe for pumpkin bread to get you into the Thanksgiving mood.

Spiced Pumpkin Bread
(Bon Appetit, 1995)

Ingredients:

3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 16-ounce can solid pack pumpkin
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350/  Butter and flour two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans.  Beat the sugar and the oil in a large bowl to blend.  Mix in eggs and pumpkin.  Sift flour. cloves. cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, salt and baking powder into another large bowl.  Stir dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture in 2 additions.  Mix in walnuts, if using.

Divide the batter equally between prepared pans.  Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes.  Transfer to racks and cool 10 minutes.  Using a sharp knife, cut around the edges of the loaves.  Turn loaves out onto racks and cool completely.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Feelin' Soupy

The leaves are changing here in Pittsburgh and the days are growing shorter.  It's getting to be soup season.  Aside from gaspacho, soup is pretty much a winter thing, if you ask me.  I guess there's chilled cucumber soup and vichyssoise, which are also nice for warmer weather.  But as far as I'm concerned, all those refreshing soups take a backseat the a nice hearty bowl of warming soup on a cold winter's day.

My love affair with soup goes way back to when I was a kid, and I discovered Campbell's Cream of Tomato soup.  I just loved the creaminess.  It felt so special because you could add milk to it instead of water.   Aside from chicken soup on holidays, my mother rarely made soup.  As an adult, I have revisited my love affair with Campbell's but have upped the ante significantly.

The other day I was talking with Frank's daughter Kelly.  She also coaches Kate, and we all spend a lot of time together.  And, let's face it, tennis isn't that interesting so we talk about a lot of other things.  It turns out that Kelly likes to cook and was making homemade tomato soup for dinner.  (You would have thought that after more than two years I would have known this given (a) how much time I spend shooting the breeze with Kelly and (b) how much I myself like to cook.)  Her tomato soup made me think of this incredibly easy and tasty recipe I saw Giada make on her Food Network show last winter.  I made it and served it to rave reviews the next day.

So now that there's a rain/snow mix in the forecast for Thursday, I thought this might be a nice way to soften the blow of the coming of the dark days of winter.

Quick and Spicy Tomato Soup
(Giada De Laurentiis)

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (28 ounce) jar marinara sauce (recommended: San Marzano brand)
2 (14 ounce) cans chicken broth (or equal amount homemade chicken stock)
1 (15 ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup pastina pasta (or any small pasta)
1/2 teaspoon  salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Warm the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat.  Add the carrots, onion, and garlic and saute until soft, about 2 minutes.Add the jar of marinara sauce, chicken broth, cannellini beans, pastina, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  Ladle into bowls and serve.