Saturday, December 31, 2011


On Christmas weekend, I went to set up for cooking....and opened my pantry and some of items were kinda sticking to the shelf...I thought - what on earth is in there that is leaking and sticky??  I had to lean over and look up at the underside of a shelf.  This is what I saw:

Great.  A can of crushed pineapple had exploded.  Lovely.  I couldn't deal with it at that exact moment (but I did deal with it).  It looked like the can had swollen at the top and the bottom before it finally gave way somewhere in the 'belly' of the can.  So, learn your lesson from me, folks.  Inspect your canned goods once in a while and get rid of anything suspicious.

Not sure what happened here...maybe the can had a ding and bacteria got a foothold?  Who knows?  I will write to the company and see what they say.

I got out a box of gloves (and changed them several times in the cleaning process).  I threw away anything that could not be washed thoroughly - like boxes of pasta.  I washed all of the cans carefully.  Then I scrubbed the whole affected area, and everything south of it (the shelf below and the floor) with warm Pine-Sol water.  Then I got fresh gloves and a clean rag and cleaned out my bucket and put in warm water with bleach.  I rinsed the whole area with this and then just let it be until it was thoroughly dry.

When the pantry and all the salvageable food items were clean and dry, I put it all back together.  I tried to bring some law and order back to the situation.

Embarrassingly, I found that I had more than one of a few things - I purchased without knowing I had one in the cupboard.  Oh, well.  None of those things has a short shelf life, so it'll be ok.  I even had bought a couple of shelf thingys (see in the pic?) a long time ago for this exact purpose.

So, in the end it worked out - the pantry really needed cleaning and sorting and I feel better having done it.  Now I want to get after my refrigerator!


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Most turkeys taste better the day after, my mother’s tasted better the day before. ~Rita Rudner, comedian

Traditional Holiday Dinner - turkey version

A lot of us enjoy turkey on Thanksgiving, as did my family.  We actually bought two turkeys anticipating more demand than we had, so we ended up freezing the second one and I made it up for Christmas as well.  We sort of did the gathering in pieces and had part one at my daughter's home on Christmas Eve, where she served a beautiful ham and delicious home-made rolls and sweet potato casserole and green beans.  I brought the mashed potatoes, the cranberries, and some spiced nuts.  The Christmas day thing was just very low-key.  In fact, it was so low-key that we decided not to do a 'dinner' at all, but rather to treat the meal as the left-overs that we all know are so good.  We just had a lunch so we could all go home early and kinda crash.  I cooked up the turkey (explanation to follow), and removed all the meat from the bones.  We made sandwiches on nice bread and had a salad.  Then the day after Christmas, we had my son's brothers over for another round of holiday dinner yummies and some games.  (We highly recommend Apples to Apples!)

Let me explain it dish by dish...

First, the star of the show, the turkey.  Last year I followed Alton Brown's advice for roasting the bird and it came out great.  This year I saw Cook's Illustrated had a way to BRAISE the bird.  I love braised foods, so I had to give it a try.

First, I broke it down.  I got to pull out my really nice meat cleaver for this.  However, since this recipe is for parts, they actually suggest that you buy a turkey breast and turkey legs.  That would save you the butchery, if that bothers you.  It doesn't bother me.  Buying in parts would also save you time, but then you don't get the other parts, which are good for stock.  Your choice.
I took the legs apart and cut the breast away from the back.  The stuff in the black pan got further broken down (read: hacked up) and I made a nice stock with it.   The parts on the cutting board got brined for about 6 hours.

Here's the bed of veg for the turkey:
Carrots, celery, onion, garlic, parsley, dried porcini mushrooms (which I rinsed and rehydrated in warm water - that water went into the braising liquid, too).

You rub the bird with butter, then roast it in a 500 degree oven for about 20 min.  This was supposed to develop the crisp skin that's so desirable.  I loved most everything about this recipe, but this one area fell a little flat.  For me, though, it was no big deal since I removed the skin in the end anyway.  I guess you could roast it a bit longer if you were after the crispy skin.  After the roasting, you put in the stock and some wine.

Then they want you to cover it tightly with foil.  Well, it's awfully hard to wrap a HOT thing tightly with foil!  Of course I had on my mitts, but I had trouble getting the foil to really form to the pan.  Enter my Engineer Husband - "Why don't you use some of those black clips?"  Now, I use these clips ALL the time in my kitchen and I love 'em, but I hadn't thought of that till he said so.  Naturally, it worked perfectly.  This gets put back into a lower temp oven for about two hours.  I checked mine at 1:45 hours and it had reached it's temp.

I got these turkey lifters a few holidays ago, but they've been cumbersome to use with whole big birds.  With the bird already in  parts, though, these were perfect transportation vehicles.

I also followed their gravy recipe and it came out really nice - and I'm not a huge gravy person.  However, I accidentally left it at home so the family didn't get to try it.  :-(

That's where Cook's Illustrated leaves you - serving the hot bird.  But I made this bird the day BEFORE the gathering - we always do this in my family.  

I cut the meat off the breast as neatly as I could and placed it on the left.  I hand-shredded the dark meat and placed it on the right.  Then I shredded as much of the remaining white meat as I could and put it with the rest of the white meat.

Then I put the braising liquid back into the pan with the meat to keep it moist.

Then I just covered it up and refrigerated it till the next day.  We warmed it in the oven and made delicious sandwiches with it.

Save the crispy skin thing, this came out very nice and I'd definitely do it again.

Orange-Cranberry Sauce.  This was done in a pretty usual way - to a point.  Berries, water, and sugar in a pan.  But I read another CI recipe and gave this variation a try....Added the zest of an orange to the cooking. Then, off heat, added two tablespoons of Grand Marnier.  I was a little afraid of it being a little too... well, boozy.  But I had a spare set of ingredients and could recover if it failed.  But it did not fail.  It was quiet nice and I will be making it again.  Soon.

Mashed Potato Casserole.  In another recipe from CI, I made this nice potato dish.

It called for Russets, but I had Yukon Gold, so that's how it went.  In these potatoes are all the good things...cream, butter, garlic, chives, eggs (don't worry, this dish gets baked).  They gave me the hint to swirl it with a fork to make it look fancy and get crispy golden peaks.  Everyone liked 'em.

Spiced Nuts.  For munching, I made these spiced nuts which I made last year and were a big hit.  This is the cinnamon version from ATK Family Cookbook.  This is so easy.  You beat an egg white or two (depending on how much you're making).  Coat the nuts with the egg whites - thoroughly.  This is what will make the spices stick to the nuts, so they need to get moist all over.  Then you drain them off in a colander for about five minutes - we don't need the excess.  Then you coat the nuts with your spice mixture and spread it out on a rimmed baking sheet or two - I used two for two pounds.  Bake it, stirring up the nuts and rotating the pans halfway through. 

There are many ways you could go with the spices, there are several variations in the cookbook, but my family likes the cinnamon sugar version.  There are a few more spices than that, but that is what I think of when I think of these nuts.
I make two pounds for the holiday gatherings.  That lasts a couple of days.  I use equal parts walnuts, pecans, and almonds.  They are always a big hit with kids and adults alike.

Dessert.  I don't think there was a pie anywhere this season for us...But we had lots of other sweets around.  I made Mexican Wedding Cookies a.k.a. Russian Teacakes, but didn't get a picture of that.  I also made these Oatmeal Fudge Bars:

These are pretty rich, so I cut them into pretty small squares.  This is also the first chocolate recipe that I have tried where I also used a bit of espresso powder.  Now, I don't like coffee, nor do I like coffee-related desserts like Tiramisu or mocha ice cream.  But I keep hearing how just a little espresso powder 'enhances' the chocolate. So I gave it a try - and these are very nice.  The chocolate seems, I don't know...more sophisticated?  I will be trying other recipes using that espresso powder.

Well, that's about it for me.  Clearly it was a Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen holiday for me.  Darn them.  They keep putting out books and magazines and I keep thinking I don't need another one, but then I see the new issue and there's stuff in there I want.  Well, I do love what they do, and I recommend their TV shows and books to anyone trying to learn how to cook and/or bake.  They're on PBS as Cook's Country and America's Test Kitchen.

Hope everyone's holiday was lovely and filled with loved ones.  Merry Christmas!  and Happy New Year!


Friday, December 2, 2011

If life gives you lemons....

This is actually a segment from another post (yet to be posted), but I thought this was interesting on its own.

This is a gadget I inherited from my Great-Grandmother.  It is something of a uni-tasker and takes up a bit of room in the cupboard, but I love it anyways.

It's a citrus juicer, and it allows you to use a lot of leverage.

 That basket in there lifts out...

See how much juice I get using that?

It's missing one of its feet, but I don't mind.


In lieu of Mistletoe... xoxo

Hello...I'm still here, working out how I would like to proceed with this blog.  Just thought I'd go ahead and post a picture of this neat version of Hershey's Kisses I bought recently.  I've never seen them before - have you?


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Research tells us fourteen out of any ten individuals likes chocolate. ~Sandra Boynton

Just a short post of interest here...I was talking to a friend at work about fancy restaurants and he sent me this link to the most spectacular dessert presentation I've ever seen.  There are some other videos posted from this restaurant if you like what you see here...

I don't like gourmet cooking or "this" cooking or "that" cooking. I like good cooking. ~James Beard

My mother's praised chicken.

I really like Nigella Lawson.  I like her shows and I have a couple of her books.  I like her relaxed approach to food - she clearly enjoys shopping, cooking, entertaining.  I saw an episode of Nigella Kitchen where she prepared this chicken and I ran right away to my copy of the book to find the recipe.  She calls it "praised" as in a combo of "poached" and "braised" - and I love both of those methods!

First I infused a little olive oil with garlic.  I love this little 6 inch pan for that.

Then I browned my bird in the garlic oil.  She has you sort of flatten out the bird first.

 Leeks, carrots, and celery all prepped.

Everybody into the tub...

Add some vermouth and water...

Here's how I do Bouquet Garni if I don't have fresh herbs.  TIP:  I usually don't measure in cooking (but I do for baking).  So how I 'measure' is to pour the herb or spice into the lid and judge the amount from there.

Those are some parsley stems in there.

Bring to bubble, turn it down low, cover and set a timer for 1.5 or 2 hours.

There's a little bit of active time for this, but it's all in the beginning.  This dish would give you time to relax for a while before dinner, or you'd have time to do another dish that might need more attention.

This chicken is so yummy!  I love doing a whole chicken - my husband gets his white meat and I get my dark so everyone's happy.  Then after dinner I pull all the remaining meat off of the bones.  If I've just roasted it, I will put the extra meat into a container and refrigerate it and make something different the next day with it.  But in this case, I just shredded it and put it back into the water, which has now become a nice broth and is therefore now a nice soup with nice veggies (I removed the parsley stems).  I also put my chicken bones into the freezer, when I get two birds in there, I make stock.


Friday, November 4, 2011

There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love pears, and have heard about poaching them in wine, and finally decided to try it.

Gingerbread with Poached Pears
For the poached pears.
Simple ingredients....could've used another pear or two.

This was not vegan - there was an egg and yogurt in the gingerbread, but otherwise vegetarian friendly.

I don't drink a lot, so I sometimes buy my wine in these little four-packs.  I used two of them for this recipe.  First I brought to a boil the wine, sugar, orange zest and a cinnamon stick, and stirred to dissolve the sugar.  Then I lowered to a simmer and let that set for five minutes.  Then I put in the pears (peeled, halved, and cored) and let them simmer for 20 minutes.  After that, I took them off heat and let them steep and cool for a couple of hours while I made the gingerbread.

These are just in.  After a while in the wine, they darkened up.

Then I got to work on the gingerbread.  

All ingredients present and accounted for...
except a shy egg which escaped its photo op.

That's a LOT of ginger!
I was a little alarmed at how much fresh ginger this recipe called for - 1/3 cup of sliced ginger!

It gets minced in a little food processor.  This much would be kind of a pain to mince by hand.

The ginger and some brown sugar gets cooked a while...

Add some molasses...

Then you assemble the wet ingredients in one bowl, the dry in another.  I should have put them in the reversed sized bowls, as you then sift the dry into the wet.

Add the cooked mixture...

Pour into pan (already sprayed with no-stick spray).

Viola!  Passed the clean toothpick test!

I've never made gingerbread before.  This was good, and the ginger in it was just right - not too heavy as I had anticipated.  I guess as it cooks and bakes it mellows a bit?  However, this was not as 'rich' a gingerbread as I have ever had - I guess owing to its appearance in a 'healthy' cookbook.  I think I will try a richer version next time...

I will DEFINITELY be poaching more pears!  Those were delicious!



p.s.  I had a couple of the half-pears left over and served them up in my little Le Creuset mini-pie dishes.  They were a perfect size for this!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Soup's not dinner, Jerry. ~Kenny Bania

My husband and son would agree.  Not huge soup fans, particularly of the thinner ones.  And my husband really only enjoys them when the weather is cold.  Well, there are times when I could just LIVE on homemade soup and bread!  I didn't make bread tonight, but I did make a simple soup.

Ingredients for Sweet Potato Vichyssoise, and the cookbook.

Looks like I didn't catch a picture of the completed soup by itself, so we start from the ingredients.

I made this once before and my seven-year-old niece tried it.  She's so cute...I guess the word "vichyssoise" is a lot for a kid to wrap her head around, so she called it "Sweet Potato Squishy-Squash".  I will never, ever forget that!  

This is a pretty easy soup.  It called for leek but I didn't have one so I subbed an onion.

Things get cooked.

Things get blended.

Pretty yummy way to get your beta-carotene.  Also, this cookbook is nicely set up with two sets of quantities for the ingredients - for two servings or four usually.  This is nice for smaller households.  My sweet potato weighed in at 1 lb, enough for the four-serving portion.  But I only defrosted 2C of chicken stock, the two-serving amount.  I figured I could just add water if I needed to, but it turned out pretty nice the way I did it.  It was thicker, so hubby liked it.  I did use butter and chicken stock, but I think this could be made very nicely as a vegan/vegetarian soup with just a couple simple modifications.

Now, that really isn't quite enough for dinner, unless your appetite is off for some reason.  However, I didn't have any meat defrosted, so I had to resort to an old fall-back.

Pierogies and sauteed onions.
Ok, that may not look like much but we hardly said a word during dinner....just a lot of quiet happy-noises.

The pierogis are simple at store, boil a few minutes, drain, saute in a little butter - and you don't even have to saute them if you don't want to.  You know what they are, right?  They're like fat little raviolis but stuffed with mashed potatoes and cheese.  How can you go wrong with that?  But I like a LOT of sauteed onions to go with them.

I love this cookbook - Marian Morash is so good about explaining all kinds of things about each major group of veggies.  She gives you gardening advice if you are so inclined to that.  She gives you a bunch of basic information about the item, basic ways to cook it, and some more complex recipes, too. I turn to this book for new ideas, and also for reassurance sometimes.  I think it's out of print (I heard they were going to reprint it at some point...not sure if it happened?)  Anyway, I've only seen it in a used bookstore once, whereupon I snatched it right up.  (I LOVE used bookstores for cookbooks!)

There go six medium onions...and I wish I had done more!

Here the onions are about done and the soup is waiting in the wings...ain't it purdy?

And there's the little dumpling darlings getting browned up a bit.

This recipe is vegetarian in the looser sense of the word, but it isn't vegan, since the pierogis had cheese in them.

This is a pretty easy put-it-together-quick sort of thing.  The pierogis could also be used as a side dish, but I never have.