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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sun Kissed Greetings!


We are doing something this winter that we never do.  We are going on a warm weather vacation.  You would think that living in a winter climate as cold and desolate as Pittsburgh that we would flee to warmer climes every chance we got.  Not so, not so.

Instead we opt for one big blow out vacation every year, usually somewhere exotic and sightseeing heavy.  One year we took the kids to Cambodia, Laos, and Bangkok, and another year we went to the Amazon and Machu Picchu.  We've done Europe too, and Japan.  I always say that when I die I want to come back as one of my kids.  They've seen it all.

But the one thing Charlie and Kate have never done is the winter beach vacation.  So when some good friends from New York called and suggested a joint family getaway in Puerto Rico over winter break, we jumped at the suggestion and will be joining the throngs of winter weary travelers as we embark on the winter beach getaway.

I'm jazzed.  I am already feeling the warm sun on my winter white skin and the sand between my toes.  I am not thrilled about the bathing suit aspect of this vacation, but I figure most everyone on the beach will have the same attractive winter pallor that I'm sporting.  My friend Emily and I have already discussed, in detail, the various rum cocktails we will be sampling.  According to Ted, the Pina Colada was invented at our hotel.  Research is in order.


So, the long and short of it is that I am signing off for 2011.  We'll be basking in the sun for a week and then I'll have to readjust to the winter.  I figure it's the holidays.  No one's cooking anyway.

See you in 2012.  Until then...  Eat, drink, and be merry.

Nadine

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What the Heck is Cottage Pie

Fine Cooking had a much better picture that I took.
Do you know what cottage pie is?  Honestly, I had no idea until the other day.  I don't think I've ever made it before but I should have.  It's just my kind of food.

Briefly, cottage pie is a lot like shepherd's pie.  It has a very flavorful filling of beef and veggies with a fluffy potato filling.  Shepherd's pie is generally made with lamb so I guess the beef makes it cottage-y as opposed to shepherd-y.  What the heck.  Why they couldn't call it shepherd's pie with beef is beyond me But these days a lot of things are beyond me.

So, back to the cottage pie.  I was perusing, yes I peruse, Fine Cooking, and I came across this recipe for sweet potato topped cottage pie and it sounded good.  I have made recipes for far worse reasons than that so I went for it.

And it was good.  The filling had lots of nice seasonings in it, like cumin, chili, and cinnamon, so it was incredibly flavorful.  I'm all for flavorful.  The sweet potato topping was well, really sweet, and quite yummy.  And I'm all for yummy.

Ted and the kids liked it too.  This was remarkable mostly because Charlie usually gags at the thought of all mashed potato products.  This is probably the result of mashed potato overload when we he was little and we had an Australian nanny who was constantly making him mashed potatoes.  But I digress.  Everyone loved it.

This is a very nice winter dish.  It's hearty and rich, although not rich is the heavy cream sense of the word.  Just rich and tasty.

And now we all know what cottage pie is.

Recipe:  Sweet Potato Cottage Pie
Fine Cooking Magazine, December/January, 2012


Ingredients:



2 large sweet potatoes (about 2 lb. total)
1/2 cup whole milk
3/4 oz. (1/4 cup) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 Tbs. unsalted butter, softened
Kosher salt and
Freshly ground black pepper
For the filling
2 medium celery stalks, cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 3/4 cup)
1 large carrot, cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 3/4 cup)
1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1-1/2 cups)
Kosher salt
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. chopped fresh oregano or 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. ancho chile powder or other pure chile powder
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1-1/2 lb. ground beef (85% lean)
1 14-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pimento-stuffed green olives
1/3 cup coarsely chopped raisins or dried cranberries

Prepare the topping:


Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 425°F. Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with foil.

Slice the sweet potatoes in half lengthwise and set them cut side down on the baking sheet. Roast until very tender, about 30 minutes

When cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh into a medium mixing bowl. Add the milk, cheese, butter, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper and beat with an electric hand mixer on low speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Set aside.

Prepare the filling:


Heat the oil in a 12-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the celery, carrot, onion, and 1 tsp. salt. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft, fragrant, and starting to turn golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, oregano, chile powder, and cinnamon and cook for 30 seconds. Add the beef, season with 2 tsp. salt, and cook until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Tilt the pan and spoon off all but about 1 Tbs. of the fat; return the pan to the heat.

Pour the tomatoes and their juice into a small bowl and crush them with your hands or a fork. Add the tomatoes to the meat and cook, uncovered, until thick, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the olives and raisins and cook for another minute; season to taste with salt.

Assemble and bake the pie:


Tip: You can use another size dish for baking the pie, but keep in mind that the thickness of the meat and sweet potato layers will change, which may affect the baking time.
Transfer the beef mixture to a 9x9-inch baking dish. Spread the sweet potatoes over the top in an even layer. Bake until bubbling around edges, about 30 minutes. Switch the oven to a high-broil setting and position the rack about 6 inches from the broiler element. Broil the pie until the sweet potatoes are a bit browned, 2 to 4 minutes.

Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Another Fine Cooking Hit

As I have mentioned in the past, I am a big fan of Fine Cooking Magazine.   While Fine Cooking isn't one of those magazines that's brimming over with recipes every month, every recipe is enticing and very well chosen.  As far as I'm concerned, if you are going to subscribe to one cooking magazine, this should be it.


One of my favorite features every month is a step by step recipe.  It's a guide that describes in detail how to make something and it offers all kinds of options for "add-ins".  I love it because it makes me feel creative while at the same time not allowing me to go hog wild and add three cups of olives to a tomato sauce.  In other words, it gives you options and proportions which will insure that the end result is delicious.

This month's recipe was for chicken soup.  Now, you may ask, why would anyone need a step by step guide to making chicken soup.  Normally I would ask that same question but being a veteran of Fine Cooking's step by step instructions, I was game to try this recipe.

Well, I'm glad I did because this chicken soup eclipsed any chicken soup I've made in the past.  Not only was the actual broth absolutely delicious, I followed their lead and added swiss chard, oyster mushrooms, and barley to the finished broth.  This is not something I would have ever  done before since generally I am a chicken noodle soup believer.

I'm not going o lie to you and tell you that the recipes in Fine Cooking are always really easy or that they aren't sometimes a little on the time consuming side.  But what I will tell you is that you won't be disappointed that you went to the effort.

Here's the recipe I followed for Chicken Soup with Barley, Mushrooms and Greens.  For other recipes for chicken soup and step by step instructions, pick up a copy of the December/January issue of Fine Cooking.


Recipe:  Basic Chicken Broth
Fine Cooking, December/January, 2012)

Ingredients:

 1 3-lb. chicken
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 medium celery stalks, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion (about 6 oz.), cut into 1/2-inch wedges
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Tip: Removing the chicken’s skin gives you a less fatty broth that won’t need as much skimming.
Using a small sharp knife and your fingers, remove the skin from the chicken and discard it.


Directions:

Rinse the chicken well and put it in a large (at least 8-quart), heavy-duty pot or Dutch oven. Add enough cold water to submerge the chicken (about 5 quarts). Cover the pot, with the lid slightly ajar. Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer. Cook, occasionally skimming off any foam that accumulates on the surface, until foam no longer rises, about 30 minutes.

Add the carrots, celery, onion, 1-1/2 Tbs. salt, and 2 tsp. pepper and simmer until the vegetables start to soften and the chicken is completely cooked through, about 20 minutes.

Using tongs and a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a large rimmed baking sheet. Let cool for 10 minutes; meanwhile, continue simmering the broth, partially covered. Using your fingers, pull the meat from the bones and shred it into bite-size pieces; discard any gristle or fat. Set aside the shredded chicken.

Return the carcass to the broth and simmer, partially covered, until the vegetables are completely soft and the flavor has intensified, about 30 minutes more. If at any time the water level drops below the solids, add water to cover and return to a simmer.

Remove the carcass from the broth and discard. Strain the broth through a fine sieve set over another pot or a bowl large enough to hold the broth. Gently press on the solids with a large spoon to squeeze out any remaining broth.

Recipe:  Chicken Soup with Barley, Mushrooms and Greens
Fine Cooking, December/January, 2012

Ingredients:

1-1/2 Tbs. olive oil or canola oil
2 cups finely chopped onion
2 cups finely chopped celery
Kosher salt
2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
3 quarts Homemade Chicken Broth
3-1/2 to 4 cups shredded, cooked chicken
3 cups cooked-until-barely-tender barley
3/4 pound Swiss chard, stemmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 oz. oyster mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
4 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
1 tsp. to 2 Tbs. sherry vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving (optional)

Directions:

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large (at least 8-quart), heavy-duty pot or Dutch oven. Add the onion, celery, and 1/2 Tbs. salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and lightly browned in places, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the thyme and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds.

Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are completely tender, 20 to 30 minutes.

Stir in the reserved shredded chicken, barley, chard, and mushrooms. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until all are tender and the flavors meld, 5 to 10 minutes.

Stir in 1 tsp. of the vinegar. Taste, and add more vinegar, 1 tsp. at a time, if needed, up to 2 Tbs. Season with salt and pepper to taste and garnish each bowl with a 1 Tbs. of the grated cheese, if you like.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Peppermint Patty


Kate thinks she lives in a full service bakery.  Tomorrow is her friend Emily's birthday so of course Kate wants to being cupcakes.  Why not?  Mom can make them.

The good news is that Kate and her friends at school and tennis are my test kitchen.  I try out all kinds of recipes on the kids (and the coaches) and I get their feedback.  I also don't have to eat quite so much myself.  It's a win win.


So, for Emily's birthday I made Peppermint Patty Cupcakes with Peppermint Buttercream.  Let me tell you this.  I don't need the kids to tell me that these are to die for.  They have a rich sour cream cake with a mini York Peppermint Patty nestled inside.  The frosting is so rich with just a hint of peppermint.  It's not too overpowering.  I didn't want it to taste like mouthwash.  I tinted the frosting with a little red food coloring to make it a pleasing pink and the end result was swoon worthy.

You need to make these.  I don't say that often but you really do.  They're perfect for the holidays.  I mean come on.  When else but during the holidays is the peppermint patty practically a food group.

Recipe:  Peppermint Patty Cupcakes with Peppermint Buttercream Frosting
(Adapted from Bakingdom)


Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sour cream

16 to 18 mini peppermint patties (such as York), more for garnish

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with paper liners; set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a large bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until just combined. Stir in the vanilla.

Sprinkle 1/3 of the flour mixture into the mixing bowl and mix until just combined. Add half of the sour cream, mixing until just combined. Repeat, alternating the remaining flour in 2 more additions with the remaining sour cream in one more addition (ending on flour).

Place 1 tablespoon of batter into each prepared muffin cup. Lay a peppermint patty in each cup and press down gently. Place another tablespoon of batter on top of each patty. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until the tops of the cupcakes spring back lightly when touched.

Transfer to a wire cooling rack and allow to cool completely before frosting.

 For the Frosting:


Ingredients:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 lb. (16 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
Food coloring (optional)

Directions:

To make the frosting: In a large bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the butter for about 30 seconds. Beat in the sugar and salt until combined. Add 1 tablespoon heavy cream and whisk on high for 3 to 4 minutes, until light and fluffy. If the frosting is too thick, add more cream, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached.

Stir in the vanilla and food coloring.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Who Knew?

A couple of weeks ago I was at the Shadyside Market where the woman ahead of me in line purchased something I had never heard of before.  It was Cope's Toasted Corn.  Sold in a sort of old fashioned looking package, it looked like something I should at least have some knowledge of.  Not to be outdone by the woman in line, I snagged myself a couple of bags and figured that I would come up with something to do with it later.


Into the pantry the toasted corn went and there it stayed.  That is, until Friday when I was digging around looking for something else.  I took it as a sign when the corn kept falling off the shelf and landing at my feet.  It was definitely time to try out this mystery ingredient.

It turns out that I may have been one of only a few people in the universe who had never heard of, let along cooked something with, Cope's Toasted Corn.  The recipes went on for pages.  Apparently toasted corn is perfect for so many things, including creamed corn, corn cakes, and corn pudding.


I love corn pudding, at least I did the last time I had it which had to have been 15 years ago at Capon Springs in West Virginia.  Capon Springs is a story for another day, but I recall loving the corn pudding they served with "steak on the hill", another story for another day.

Feeling a bit nostalgic for Capon Springs' corn pudding, and wanting not to be left out of the toasted corn revolution, I settled on a recipe for corn pudding from Gourmet Magazine.  I figured that the Gourmet  recipe would be the gold standard of all corn pudding recipes.

I have to tell you, it was really good.  The corn  sunk to the bottom, as the recipe said it would, and provided a nice base for the custardy top.  The recipe didn't call for nutmeg, but I think just a pinch might have been a nice addition and I'm going to try that the next time I make corn pudding.

I still have one bag of toasted corn lurking in the pantry.  You just never know what I'll come up with.


Recipe:  Toasted Sweet Corn Pudding 
Gourmet, November 2009

In this golden casserole (which you'll find on many Pennsylvania Dutch tables), a buttermilk custard rises to the top while the chewy, toasty corn sinks to the bottom, resulting in a two-layered pudding. The packaged sweet corn—frequently called by its most common brand name, Cope's corn—is slowly dried so that its natural sugars caramelize, a centuries-old Native American preservation method. Recipes usually call for grinding the corn, but the whole kernels impart a coarser texture that we love.
Yield: Makes 8 servings
Active Time: 10 min
Total Time: 1 1/2 hr

1 (7 1/2-ounces) package Cope's corn (toasted dried sweet corn)
4 cups whole milk
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk (not powdered)
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in upper third. Butter a 2-quart shallow baking dish.
Whisk together all ingredients with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl.
Transfer to baking dish. Bake until pudding is set, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool 10 minutes before serving.


Read More http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/printerfriendly/Toasted-Sweet-Corn-Pudding-356014#ixzz1g337hBdc

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Little Night Music

I am not cooking tonight.  I spent a good part of the day trying to get my arms around the whole holiday gift thing and tonight I am going to Kate's holiday concert.  Ted and I are going to have a little √†pres concert dinner following the performance.

I am just not on top of the holidays this year.  Thankfully, Hanukah comes late because there would be no gifts if it started early in December, as is has in recent years.  The Jewish calendar clearly does not take into account my lack of motivation and level of disorganization with regard to the holidays every year.  It would be nice if it did.  And despite Christmas coming at the same time every year, it always takes me by surprise.  Go figure.

Every year I start out with the best intentions of (1) finding the perfect gift for everyone on the list, (2) getting it done early, and (3) working within some kind of budget.  Every year the holiday shopping ends up with me (1) settling for anything that could even remotely be something the recipient might like, (2) a frenzied dash through the mall a day or two before the start of either Christmas or Hanukah, and (3) a budgetary free for all.

I have great hopes for this year but it's probably still too soon to tell how the holiday shopping season will shake down.  For now, I think I'll sit back and enjoy the concert.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pass the Salad


As you may have noticed, I am not a big salad maker.  Mostly I just do the romaine, tomatoes, and button mushrooms and call it a day.  I am not proud of this but I have learned to embrace my shortcomings.

Nonetheless, every once in a while, a recipe for a salad piques my interest.  Usually I get excited if there's some unusual (and by unusual I mean not romaine) lettuce involved or a particularly zippy salad dressing.  This recipe for a salad incorporating fennel and radicchio together with a dressing which included both walnuts and manchego was a surefire interest piquer.


Winter is actually not a bad time for salads.  The greens tend to be a bit "sturdier" but who needs all that delicate lettuce anyway?   The dressings also tend to be a little heavier which suits me just fine.  While I enjoy a nice little vinaigrette as much as the next guy, in the winter I crave something a little more substantial, even if it's just a salad dressing.  I want a dressing with a little "umph" and this dressing certainly is "umphy" with the addition of both chopped walnuts and one of my favorite cheeses, manchego.

Not only is this salad absolutely delicious, it's a show stopper.  The colors are lovely, even festive, and the dressing is really special.  You can serve this to your family or to guests and everyone will be asking you to please pass the salad.

Recipe:  Winter Salad with Fennel Radicchio, Walnuts, and Manchego
(Cook This Now by Melissa Clark, 2011)

Ingredients:


1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 fat garlic clove, finely shopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 pound aged manchego or Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup toasted walnuts, finely chopped
1 large head radicchio, quartered lengthwise and cored
1 large fennel bulb, fronds removed

Directions:


In a bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, salt, pepper, and garlic.  Whisk in the oil.  Use a Microplane or other grater to finely grate 2 ounces of the cheese (you'll get about 1.2 cup).  Whisk the grated cheese and walnuts into the vinaigrette (it should be fairly thick).

Thinly slice each radicchio wedge crosswise and transfer to a large salad bowl.  Trim the stems from the fennel and remove the outer layers.  Cut the fennel bulb in half from top to bottom.  Using a mandoline or very sharp knife, shave the fennel into paper thin slices.  Add to the salad bowl.

Pour the vinaigrette over the salad and toss well.  Use a vegetable peeler to shave the remaining 2 ounces of cheese into curls.  Toss into the salad.  Taste and adjust any seasonings, if necessary.





Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Buried Treasure


This morning I was on a hunt for a lentil soup recipe that I remembered cutting out a couple of months ago.  I have a very sophisticated recipe filing system so I was sure I could put my hands on it.  My filing system consists of a large pile which I just keep adding to.  I never get around to organizing said pile so you can image that it's quite tall.  Nonetheless, surprisingly enough, I can generally find what I'm looking for.


That was not to be the case today.  I did come across a whole bunch of recipes I cannot imagine why I ever cut them out.  I also came across this recipe for banana bread which sounded I recall thinking was intriguing.   I figured that with the number of rotten bananas we end up with around here, I was sure to have an occasion to make it.

Well, today was the day.  Having come across the recipe and having noticed that I had more than enough bananas to make it, I felt like it was kismet so I got to work.

This is not a quick to make recipe.  It has a lot of steps but what you end up with is an incredibly banana-y banana bread.  I had never before though of straining bananas (although apparently my son attempted straining bananas in order to make banana beer), so I had no idea how much liquid is in a banana.  The answer to that is that there is more than you would expect.

This recipe also produces one of the prettiest banana breads I have ever seen.  With the sliced bananas and the crystallized sugar on top, it's gift-worthy if you're feeling ambitious.  You will certainly make a splash with this loaf.




And if I needed a reason not to organize my recipes, I think I just found one.



Recipe:  Ultimate Banana Bread
American's Test Kitchen
From the episode: Coffee Break Sweets

Makes one 9-inch loaf

Be sure to use very ripe, heavily speckled (or even black) bananas in this recipe. This recipe can be made using 5 thawed frozen bananas; since they release a lot of liquid naturally, they can bypass the microwaving in step 2 and go directly into the fine-mesh strainer. Do not use a thawed frozen banana in step 4; it will be too soft to slice. Instead, simply sprinkle the top of the loaf with sugar. The test kitchen’s preferred loaf pan measures 8½ by 4½ inches; if you use a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan, start checking for doneness five minutes earlier than advised in the recipe. The texture is best when the loaf is eaten fresh, but it can be stored (cool completely first), covered tightly with plastic wrap, for up to 3 days.

INGREDIENTS:


1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
6 large very ripe bananas (about 2 1/4 pounds), peeled (see note)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter , melted and cooled slightly
2 large eggs
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup walnuts , toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar

Directions:

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 8½ by 4½-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in large bowl.

Place 5 bananas in microwave-safe bowl; cover with plastic wrap and cut several steam vents in plastic with paring knife. Microwave on high power until bananas are soft and have released liquid, about 5 minutes. Transfer bananas to fine-mesh strainer placed over medium bowl and allow to drain, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes (you should have ½ to ¾ cup liquid).

Transfer liquid to medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until reduced to ¼ cup, about 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat, stir reduced liquid into bananas, and mash with potato masher until fairly smooth. Whisk in butter, eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla.

Pour banana mixture into flour mixture and stir until just combined with some streaks of flour remaining. Gently fold in walnuts, if using. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Slice remaining banana diagonally into ¼-inch-thick slices. Shingle banana slices on top of either side of loaf, leaving 1½-inch-wide space down center to ensure even rise. Sprinkle granulated sugar evenly over loaf.

Bake until toothpick inserted in center of loaf comes out clean, 55 to 75 minutes. Cool bread in pan on wire rack 15 minutes, then remove loaf from pan and continue to cool on wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Pumpkin Pie Anyone?

I used some of the extra pastry to cut out autumn shapes and then decorated the crust with them.  Aren't I just so festive?
To go along with my Turkey Roulade, of course I had to make a pumpkin pie.  I mean, come on.  What would Thanksgiving be without the pumpkin pie?  I know some people prefer apple or pecan pie, but since I was cooking I got to make my favorite Thanksgiving pie.  And that pie is pumpkin.

I have made a zillion different pumpkin pies over the years.  Each has its merits.  Some are light and chiffon-y.  Some are denser and more custard like.  Some are rich with spices and other are sweeter.  There are as many versions of pumpkin pie as there are versions of apple pie and there's an argument for why each is best.

But I have to tell you that I have finally hit on the best pumpkin pie ever.  I mean it.  This is a pumpkin pie that stands above all others.  I played around with a couple of different recipes and came up with this rich, spicy but surprisingly light pie.  I have to give credit where credit is due however and give a shout out to everyone's favorite southern gal, Paula Deen.  Who else would put cream cheese in a pumpkin pie.  Pumpkin cheesecake yes.  Pumpkin pie no.

So, with thanks to Paula and to Martha Stewart for my go-to pate brisee, here is my final word on the subject of pumpkin pie.

Recipe:  The Best Pumpkin Pie


For the Filling:


Ingredients:


1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 cups canned pumpkin, mashed
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg plus 2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 cup half-and-half
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

For the filling, in a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese with a hand mixer. Add the pumpkin and beat until combined. Add the sugar and salt, and beat until combined. Add the eggs mixed with the yolks, half-and-half, and melted butter, and beat until combined. Finally, add the vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg and beat until incorporated.

Pour the filling into the pie crust and bake for 1 hour, or until the center is set. Place the pie on a wire rack and cool to room temperature.


Recipe:  Martha Stewart's Pate Brisee


For the Crust:


Ingredients:



2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4-1/2 cup ice water

Directions:

*  Make sure to use very cold butter and icy cold ice water.  

Put flour, salt and sugar in a bowl, blender or food processor. Add the pieces of butter and process approximately 10 seconds or until it resembles "coarse meal.".

Add ice water drop by drop while machine is running (or you are mixing)--- just until dough holds together without being wet or sticky. Do not mix longer than 30 seconds.
Roll dough out on a piece of plastic wrap. Press down slightly. Chill for at least one hour.

Roll dough out on a lightly floured surface and then fit into a pie plate.  Do not stretch the cough.  If it's not large enough, roll it out a little more and then try again.  Decoratively crimp edges.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Thanksgiving Wrap-Up


Well...  They came, I cooked, I cleaned up.  Last Friday night I cooked a belated Thanksgiving dinner for my family and it was lovely.

I made Ina Garten's stuffed turkey breast, which was delicious.  Let me tell you this.  There is absolutely something to be said for making just a turkey breast if you have a family (or group) that prefers just the white meat.  I had Mark, my much loved butcher, butterfly the breast so that it was an even thickness throughout.  It cooked in about two hours and was an absolute breeze to slice and serve.  Rolled with the stuffing, it looked really festive.  (Of course, I forgot to take pictures so I'm using Ina's.)

Before slicing.
The stuffing, which was full of yummy things like dried figs, dried cranberries, and pine nuts, was easy to make and really tasty -- in or out of the turkey.  In fact, the recipe made quite a bit and I ended up with a whole casserole to serve in addition to what was rolled into the breast.

This recipe definitely had a "Thanksgiving-ish" vibe, but you could get away with serving it at any festive meal.  It's absolutely delicious and makes a wonderful statement on any holiday table.


Recipe:  Roasted Turkey Roulade
Barefoot Contessa, Back to basics, 2008

Ingredients:


3/4 cup large-diced dried figs, stems removed
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup Calvados or brandy
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups diced onions (2 onions)
1 cup (1/2-inch-diced) celery (3 stalks)
3/4 pound pork sausage, casings removed (sweet and hot mixed)
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
3 cups herb-seasoned stuffing mix (recommended: Pepperidge Farm)
1 1/2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 extra-large egg, beaten
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 whole (2 halves) turkey breast, boned and butterflied (5 pounds)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Directions:



Place the dried figs and cranberries in a small saucepan and pour in the Calvados and 1/2 cup water. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, then lower the heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and celery and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage, crumbling it into small bits with a fork, and saute, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes, until cooked and browned. Add the figs and cranberries with the liquid, the chopped rosemary, and pine nuts, and cook for 2 more minutes. Scrape up the brown bits with a wooden spoon.

Place the stuffing mix in a large bowl. Add the sausage mixture, chicken stock, egg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and stir well. (The stuffing may be prepared ahead and stored in the refrigerator overnight.)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place a baking rack on a sheet pan.

Lay the butterflied turkey breast skin side down on a cutting board. Sprinkle the meat with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Spread the stuffing in a 1/2-inch-thick layer over the meat, leaving a half-inch border on all sides. Don't mound the stuffing or the turkey will be difficult to roll. (Place the leftover stuffing in a buttered gratin dish and bake for the last 45 minutes of roasting alongside the turkey.) Starting at 1 end, roll the turkey like a jelly roll and tuck in any stuffing that tries to escape on the sides. Tie the roast firmly with kitchen twine every 2 inches to make a compact cylinder.

Place the stuffed turkey breast seam side down on the rack on the sheet pan. Brush with the melted butter, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, and roast for 1 3/4 to 2 hours, until an instant-read thermometer registers 150 degrees F in the center. (I test in a few places.) Cover the turkey with aluminum foil and allow it to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes. Carve 1/2-inch-thick slices and serve warm with the extra stuffing.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thanksgiving in December

This was a strange Thanksgiving for my family.  Not strange in a bad way.  Just strange in a well, unusual way.

Charlie was finishing up his term abroad in Berlin so Ted went over to meet him.  From Berlin, they went to Prague where they had a great time sightseeing, drinking beer,  and drinking more beer.  (Charlie has been careful to note throughout his time in Berlin that (1) the legal drinking age is 16 and (2) beer is cheaper than water.  Apparently the same holds true for Prague.)

Kate and I didn't go because she is a junior in high school this year and just couldn't miss school.  But all was not lost for us girls.  We hit the road and went up to New York for the long holiday weekend.  We had a lovely Thanksgiving with my cousins and then Kate got to spend lots of time with her camp friends.  I got to spend lots of time with my good friends Bergdorf Goodman and Barney's.  A win for both Kate and I.  (Ted would say it was a loss for him as my credit cards went along for the ride.)

The upshot of all this is that Friday night I am cooking a late Thanksgiving for my family now that we are all back together.  I'm going to make Ina Garten's Stuffed Turkey Breast, sweet potatoes, roasted veggies, cranberries, and pumpkin pie.  I have a full day of preparation ahead of me.

I can't wait.  Having all four of us together for Thanksgiving, albeit a late one, is a celebration that will be well worth the wait.