Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving Hangover

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Well, it's finally over...the first of the holiday feasts. Now we recover and prepare for the onset of holiday parties. But let's first recap turkey day.
We noshed before the feast on home made pimento cheese and a pumpkin dip. My personal pimento cheese recipe follows as does the pumpkin. At Williams Sonoma every fall, we sell pecan pumpkin butter. It is delicious spread on a piece of toast or bagel. We also offer recipes for pumpkin bars and cake. But this crazy dip is the most popular. It's Nic's favorite, so I obliged.
The turkey was fresh and organic. I opted to not brine it as I have done for years, but instead I slathered it with the brining mixture like a dry rub, sealed it and let it sit for 2 days in the fridge. I rinsed it well and stuffed it with fresh herbs and apples. My 17 pound bird cooked in about 3 and a half hours. It could have used another 30 minutes. It was cooked, but the dark meat wasn't falling off the bones. I made NO stock from the carcass this year. Not a drop. My freezer doesn't have a single freezer container of leftovers.
Of course we had stuffing, a sweet potato casserole with sugared pecans, creamed pearl onions and popovers.
Dessert was pie, of course. We did a pumpkin made with Williams Sonoma pumpkin butter in a graham crust, and pecan in my own crust. I used Lyle's golden syrup instead of Karo for pecan pie. My theory was that not so many years ago Karo was nothing but pure cane syrup. Now, it's light corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, salt and vanilla. Lyle's is pure cane syrup. Why are the Europeans the only ones keeping food pure? Google high fructose corn syrup and you'll avoid it too. But it is everywhere. Soda, ketchup, syrup, pretty much anything liquid and sweet. The pecan pie was fabulous, although the crust wasn't great. For some reason I bought self-rising flour. I used that and it made an ultra-flaky but not great crust. But if you add enough whipped cream, a store bought tastes okay too.

Pumpkin Butter Spread
1 block cream cheese
1/2 jar pumpkin butter
8 pieces bacon cooked crisp
4 green scallions chopped
Soften cream cheese and spread in dish. Top with pumpkin butter and crumbled bacon and scallions. Pretty easy.

Susie's Pimento Cheese
2 lbs sharp cheddar
1 lb extra sharp white cheddar
1 block cream cheese
2 T grated onion
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Grate cheese, I use my Cuisinart, then toss in stand mixer bowl. Add all ingredients and mix well. Pack in jars and chill. It's best after a day or so, and needs to come to room temp to serve. This isn't creamy cheese, it can be made more creamy with the addition of mayo.
So on to baking cookies, making hors'd oeuvres and decking the halls. 'Tis the season...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

La Nouveau Tollhouse

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Christina jumps in the car last week after school and announced that tomorrow would be a movie in French class, which means they bring in snacks. No problem. I have cupcakes and muffins in my freezer (no turkey broth though!). I have ingredients to bake just about anything, and even a few mixes for a real quickie. Nope, she wanted to go to the grocery and get a giant cookie. You know the kind. Chocolate chip baked in a pizza pan, decorated with frosting. Yuk. I told her she had to pay for it.
She came out of the grocery store empty handed. It seems you have to pre order the $15 cookies. They must not fly off the shelf. So I suggested (again) that she make her own.
Following the basic Tollhouse recipe, she whipped it up in no time, and took all the dough and spread it in a jelly roll pan. Remember that's the smaller of the pans. Not a half sheet. She baked it until it was perfectly golden and not too crunchy on the edges. We let it cool on a rack for half an hour or so, or until it was cool top and bottom.

I made a quick butter cream. 6 T butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and enough milk to bind it together. Then we added gel coloring until it was hot pink. I did a basic shell border around the cookie and then wrote on it. En Francais s'il vous plait! Which means, in French, if you please. It is the class slogan, no English when you enter. Needless to say it was eaten up and enjoyed by all!

Au revoir!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Going, Going, Gone!

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Don't you love an auction? The thrill of competing with other bidders to buy something. What a concept. I've been to many, all fundraisers; for the neighborhood, the school, diabetes, whatever. The one factor that is always a constant is alcohol. It seems, curiously enough, that the more you drink, the more you bid! I have awoken in a foggy haze and walked into the kitchen to find artwork I so gallantly fought for, school sweatshirts I paid a dandy mark up on, and even high end tequila that I was sure was a real bargain! But it is all in the name of charity, tax write off and all that stuff.
A very popular item right now in these auctions are parties. Margarita parties, white trash parties, wine tasting parties,dinner parties, you name it. It seems there are a number of people who are willing to pay big bucks to have someone throw them a party. I personally have been in groups that auctioned off a Mexican Dinner for 8. It raised over $1000. We did a redneck party at my house that was one for the textbooks. I could hardly look at the cantor the next day at church because he had a mullet wig on shooting whiskey on my deck not even 12 hours earlier. But it raised big bucks for my daughter's school. And it was a blast.
Then there are the dinners that I didn't actually buy, but was invited to. The first was dinner at a plantation back in the Mississippi woods. The setting was spectacular. The home was full of antiques, ghosts and original details of the 1800's. Dinner was in an old dining room with 15 foot ceilings and great company. I only remember the gumbo which was terrific. They even provided transportation to and from so we wouldn't have to worry about driving. The second was the most lavish. It was a 7 course meal, one course from each continent. The food was spectacular. Russian caviar, the most incredible jerk lamb chops, French truffles, and the wine flowed. We were so stuffed that night we could hardly move. It was a 5 hour food fest. Thankfully they live close, looking back I should have walked home! The last dinner we went to was bought by friends of ours, to be cooked in their home. It was donated by a family that is a restaurant legacy in Memphis. There were obviously issues right up front. The hostess was having problems getting commitment for a date. One family member left the business, and he was very likely the one who put it in the auction. But the night was finally set and we went.
Appetizers were enormous shrimp wrapped in prosciutto and pan fried. They were terrific. The other platter was celery stuffed with some sort of blue cheese dip. Now I have said over and over and over that I am a food snob. I work at the best food snob store, I shop at a great high end grocer for the best stuff and I read the blogs, magazines and books. I missed the memo on the crudite tray coming back into fashion. I was seriously disappointed. If the blue cheese had been put on crostini with a little sun dried tomato it would have been great. Blue cheese dip in a bowl with garnish, olives and great crackers, fine. But celery? Okay move on.
We were seated for dinner, and the wine was flowing. Now we are all friends, and we could have had Dominoes and had a great time. That isn't the point. The point is, someone made a hefty donation to a school we already pay tuition to, in exchange for a dinner. They got that, but it was so lackluster. I personally would have been pretty ticked off.
The first course was penne with sausage ragu and fresh basil. Okay, sausage ragu is basically sausage cooked down in a tomato sauce until it's thick. The basil was a chiffonade on top. It was very good. A huge bowl, and most of the women didn't eat it all because we didn't want to fill up on pasta. The next course was a piece of salmon. I will detail the recipe at the end. It was basically a piece of salmon topped with goat cheese and sauteed spinach. It was served by itself on a big ol' plate. It was delicious, but lonely. Okay, so I'm thinking salad. It's an Italian family, I'm Italian. We always eat salad last. But sadly, no salad. Nothing but dessert. A scoop of vanilla ice cream, 2 sliced strawberries and a balsamic reduction. Delicious and light. I'm sure it was unusual for many of the diners. That was it. Dinner was over. Within an hour one husband was pillaging the fridge for something to nibble on!
Like I said we have a great time regardless. But someone shelled out money for this event. I could have done the dinner for about $50 plus the wine. And we did drink a lot of wine. Now putting out a couple hundred dollars for these dinners is nothing, and if you own a handful of restaurants, recession or no, the ingredients are cheaper than going to Fresh Market or Kroger. I estimate the dinner of the continents was close to $800.
We had a great time, the food was good, not exceptional. But I have totally duplicated the salmon and am here to share it with you. Unfortunately I don't have a picture. I made it in California and forgot to shoot it, (the wine thing).

Great Salmon
Take your salmon fillets and season generously with salt and pepper and sear them in hot olive oil. The oil should shimmer before you put them in so they sizzle. You want a great caramelization on both sides. Remove from pan before they are totally cooked through. Place them on a rimmed cookie sheet lightly greased with olive oil.
Saute fresh spinach in a clean pan with a little fresh garlic and olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss it often so it cooks evenly. Remember that it shrinks considerably so plan portions accordingly. Remove from heat.
Take a little brown sugar and lightly cover the top of each fillet with it. Place a little goat cheese on top of each fillet and cover with a mound of the cooked spinach. Place into a hot oven, about 375. You want the sugar to melt, the cheese to soften and the salmon to finish off.
That's it. It is fabulous! We had ours in California with roasted sweet potatoes from the farmer's market. The most gorgeous potatoes I've seen. Peel and cut into wedges. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, 2 teaspoons of red pepper flakes and a tablespoon of fresh thyme. Roast until they are caramelized and cooked through. They are very addictive!
So we are getting prepared for Thanksgiving, lots of potential blogs. Pie, Pita (not like you're thinking, this is a family recipe), pimento cheese, and who knows what else! Enjoy!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Leftovers and La La Land Day 1

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I have just returned from a whirlwind, 4 day trip to California, Los Angeles area. I affectionately call it LA LA land because it is chock full of loony people. They appeared on Sunday, so stay tuned.
I arrived late on Thursday evening. So Friday we got up early to fit as much in as possible. A quick coffee, the LA Times (love that paper) and my sister Lori and I hiked Temescal Canyon. The hike was about 1 1/2 hours to Skull Rock and back. It was exhilarating and exhausting. I would have loved some photos for the blog, but you don't want to carry an extra ounce up that mountain!
We returned to Santa Monica and cleaned up for the book signing at Williams Sonoma. Ina Garten!
We thought we were planning ahead, and arrived an hour early. The line was already 3 blocks long so we jumped in with our books. The guy ahead of us had a bouquet of orange roses for Ina, her favorite. Sort of creepy that he knew that! Behind us to start were 2 young moms and their babies. They didn't plan the day well, no strollers and they didn't pre-buy the book. About 45 minutes into the queue, Williams Sonoma ran out of books so they left, even though these very nice sisters in line were willing to sell them each one of theirs. Which brings me to the real blog of the day.
Dominique and Yvette, (I sure hope I spelled those right) were the sisters in line behind us after the the babies left. We chatted for the next 45 minutes. We talked about recipes, families, Ina of course, and Thanksgiving. One of them told a funny story I can't get over. It was a dinner party she was invited to by a friend who really doesn't cook. The assortment of food was odd to her (a good cook labors over what food goes with what!), and she said the hostess was so happy when it was over because her freezer was now empty! It was a leftover party!
Leftovers! Seriously, we decided everyone hates their own leftovers, and frozen leftovers are the worst! So what would compel anyone to think that their friends wanted to eat theirs?
The first thing I did when we returned to Lori's was open the freezer to determine what would be served at her leftover party. Pretty slim pickings. Soup. About 2 bowls total. A pretty boring affair and it wouldn't really open up much space. That IS the real reason behind this sort of party right?
Now I'm home, and I have 3 freezers. So I had a "comin'-to-Jesus" with my own leftovers. First let me explain I feel guilty throwing food away. But throwing away ice covered broth I made last Thanksgiving from the turkey carcass isn't that hard. And yes, I have 4 enormous Ziplocs of 12 month old turkey broth, yum, (now there's a party waiting to happen). Trash.

There is a ragu I made from some rib eyes. Trash.
There was some chicken pesto pasta...what the heck, reheated and served that for dinner last night, I was tired from flying.
And yes, there are things I can't identify. Soups, pastas, some sort of enchiladas, maybe pulled pork....all in the trash.
I have come to the conclusion that I simply make too much. I wouldn't think of just throwing out the leftovers after dinner, but I feel no guilt throwing out the frozen remains months later. And what about those bread ends? You know the heels of a loaf? I have a bag FULL of them. I'm the only person in my house who will eat them. Sometimes I'll pack Christina a sandwich and flip it over so she doesn't know...until she bites it. So how many bread heels can I possibly eat? Why do I save this stuff? Croutons? Great idea, but I seem to just buy bread and make croutons. And one cooked bratwurst. It's pathetic and couldn't taste good at all. But I saved it! I have got to get a little freezer therapy!

Now remember, when you open the freezer and look for yourself, the Lean Cuisines and that bag of frozen shrimp don't count. We're talking leftovers. "Already been served" kind of food. I am over it. I am no longer going to store up. I am making what we will eat, I am not buying freezer bags. I think I may actually be able to unplug a fridge after this. There's an extra $10 a month of electricity to put toward that fresh food! Thanks girls for the great story and the nudge to clean up my act!
You can see it is clean! Vodka and glasses, ice cream freezers, and some baked goods I made for Thanksgiving week. But no leftover dinner from April!

Next I will blog the killer salmon I made for dinner that night, and how I came upon the recipe. For now, I need to peruse my new Ina book and make a grocery list for Italian Wedding Soup, just enough for one meal! And here's Lori and I with Ina. She was very charming, engaged everyone, and she can cook! Bet her freezer is void of leftovers!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

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Ahhhh, there are certain rituals of the seasons. The winter is all about hot chocolate, red wine, slow cooking, chili on a snowy day. Spring is asparagus, strawberry pie, and lemon poppy seed quick bread. Summer is lemonade (with a little Absolut Citron), watermelon, anything grilled. And fall is mulling spices, cider, butternut squash and pumpkin anything. But at my house, it is pumpkin muffins. Dense, fragrant with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, yummy pumpkin and studded with chocolate. They are especially good cold. Straight from the fridge or a few minutes out of the freezer. A cup of coffee or a glass of milk. I prefer them over pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pretty much pumpkin anything. You'll agree. It is a great combination and tastes just like fall....
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
1 2/3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup pumpkin (half a can, although I have dumped the whole thing in before)
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350. Mix flour, sugar, spices, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
Break eggs in another bowl and whisk in pumpkin and butter. Fold into dry ingredients, don't over mix. Add chocolate chips.
Scoop batter into muffin tin lined with papers. 12 regular sized or 24 mini muffins. Bake until puffed and springy but no longer gooey. About 20 minutes. Cool completely before storing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rainy Day Baking

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I have a headache. Not a dull achy one, but one that sneaks up on you every few minutes in the base of your head. So, after another glamorous day of work in the stockroom, I took a handful of Excedrin and hit the couch. I was aroused by the most fabulous smell....
It's cold and rainy and Christina decided baking was a better idea than getting a head start on homework. I raised her right, don't you agree? She was in the mood for oatmeal and chocolate chips, a favorite combination around here. So she whipped up a batch of some PDG cookies. (That's pretty dang good, in case you didn't know).
Here's the recipe, and a few amateur pictures, I need to teach her a little about lighting!

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 cups flour (I use King Arthur white-whole wheat)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter at room temp
1/4 cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
3 Tablespoons corn syrup (light or dark)
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/3 cup oatmeal (not instant)
2 cups chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350. Mix dry ingredients in a small bowl. In a mixer cream butter, shortening and sugars until light and fluffy. Add egg, corn syrup and vanilla and mix until blended. Add dry ingredients and when incorporated add chocolate chips.
Drop dough onto Silpat covered cookie sheets and bake about 12 minutes, or until crispy along the edges.
Cool on rack.
Makes about 60 cookies

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Good Things at Goodwill

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I drive by a Goodwill drop off a few times a week. Every time I pass, I think, "Dang, I have 7 bags of clothes in the garage". It took me months to summon up the strength to clean out all of Nic's stuff, and I can't seem to move them out of the garage. One of these days I'll remember to bring them and accept the fact that he is in uniform pretty much from here on. Last week as I passed, I noticed Goodwill had opened a bookstore. Wow! What a find!

It's a small store, clean and very organized. The clerk knew everything she had. Because of our proximity to Oxford, MS, there was a huge selection of Grisham books in hardcover, some rare books behind glass, and a section devoted solely to my favorite past

Most were give away books from food manufacturers, and a lot of collections from Time Life, Bon Apettit, and Southern Living to name a few. Tucked on one of the shelves was a Biscotti cookbook. It is by Lou Seibert Pappas, and having been at Williams Sonoma for 11 years, I can tell you she writes a lot of books. They are very specific cookbooks, Fondue, Crockery Cooking, Ice Cream, Pumpkins, to name just a few, but I had never seen this book. It was published in 1992, and has the most adorable hand drawings by Piet Halberstadt.

I looked it up on Amazon to see if it was available, and found one used copy for $20. I guess that makes my $2 book a great bargain! The original retail price was $10. I have to wonder, did paper prices explode over the last 15 years? Why are cookbooks so expensive? I wouldn't think twice about picking up books on a whim if they ran $10-$15 each. Almost every cookbook I have looked at recently is at least $35.

The book includes baking tips and about 28 recipes. Virtually every one calls for almonds which happens to be the nut I don't have on hand. So today we improvised the Double Chocolate Decadence recipe and used walnuts. The result is fabulous. I changed a few things and it is my revised recipe that follows. I can hardly wait to try another!

Double Chocolate Decadence
2/3 cup walnuts
1 stick unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 Tablespoons strong brewed coffee
1 teaspoon good vanilla
2 cups plus 2 Tablespoons flour (I used King Arthur's white whole wheat)
1/3 cup Pernigotti cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate

Toast the walnuts in a small fry pan over medium heat moving constantly to prevent burning. When the walnuts are fragrant and toasted set aside to cool.
Cream butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until fluffy. Add eggs, coffee and vanilla. Mix well. Add all dry ingredients and mix until they are incorporated. Fold in the chocolate and walnuts and distribute evenly.
Form 2 logs on a Silpat covered cookie sheet. The logs should be a few inches apart and extend the length of cookie sheet.
Bake at 325 for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and slide Silpat onto cooling rack. Allow logs to cool for 5 minutes or so. Slice the logs on a cutting board at a 45 degree angle and place back on cookie sheet. Bake again for about 5-10 minutes or until they are nicely toasted.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Grandma's Brownies

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Doesn't that sound fabulous? The brownie you remember your Grandma making? The problem here is twofold: One, I really don't remember my Grandma making them, my mom did and called them Grandma's, does that make them my great-gramdma's? And two, they aren't brownies at all. It's Texas sheet cake. Sadly, like many of my childhood favorites, it wasn't exclusive to the Petitti/Rohlik family. But that's okay, it is a very popular dessert and I have garnered many fans with this recipe.

The recipe is pretty easy, and other than buttermilk, most of the ingredients are on hand for the casual baker. And, I promise you'll find that buttermilk is a great ingredient to have on hand as well. Use it in pancake mix, marinate chicken in it, make real Ranch dressing...just to name a few.

The cake is a light, cocoa cake, very thin in a jelly roll pan. The star is the frosting! Soooo good! I made the recipe without nuts, but a cup of chopped pecans in the frosting or dropped on the moist frosting is a great addition. Paula Deen makes a version of this with a little more butter (surprise, surprise!) and she bakes it in a 9X13. It is delicious any way, but I love the sheet cake. It's a small, thin dessert with the richest frosting! Chill them and it turns into a small, thin dessert with fudge on top! And of course a sheet pan or jelly roll, makes a lot of servings. And yes, there is a difference in the sizes. A jelly roll pan is smaller at 15X10X1 a sheet pan is 18X13X1. Either pan will do, just keep an eye on your baking time.

Grandma's Brownies
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup strong coffee or water + 1 T instant coffee
1/4 cup dark cocoa (I like Pernigotti from Williams Sonoma)
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons dark cocoa
1/4 cup milk
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine flour and sugar in bowl. In a saucepan, combine butter, shortening, coffee and cocoa. Stir and heat to boiling. Pour cocoa mixture over the sugar and flour and mix well. Add eggs, buttermilk, baking soda and vanilla. Mix well until smooth. I use a hand mixer.
Pour into greased pan, (no Pam, use Baker's Joy). Bake at 400. It will take anywhere from 15-25 minutes depending on the thickness. You will see the cake set.

During the last few minutes of baking, prepare frosting. In a saucepan heat butter, cocoa and milk to boiling. Stir often. Turn off heat. Mix in powdered sugar and vanilla with electric mixer until frosting is smooth. Add nuts now or later if desired. Pour warm frosting over hot cake.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

THE Cookie Recipe

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I know nothing about copyrights. I was afraid little old me would get in trouble if I published my yummy molasses cookie recipe on my blog. You know, the thousands of you who are nabbing it without buying the $35 book. I have since decided I'm not likely to land in jail, although I could really use a rest, and here is the recipe.
I have visions of hot chocolate, hot cider, molasses cookies. Problem is, fall has moved out of Memphis this week and we are looking at 70 something degree days. Looks like iced tea weather still. Happy Baking!

Farmer's Favorite Molasses Cookies
2 Cups Flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons Sugar
1/2 Cup Shortening
1/4 Cup Unsalted Butter, slightly softened
1/4 Cup Dark Molasses
1 Large Egg

Mix first 6 ingredients together in small bowl and set aside. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat sugar, shortening, butter and molasses until well blended and fluffy. Beat in the egg until smooth. Beat in dry ingredients one half at a time until everything is incorporated. Cover and chill the dough for at least 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350. Grease your cookie sheets. Shape dough into balls, and then I roll them in sugar. Place about 2" apart on sheet. If you prefer a flatter cookie gently press it down, if you like them a little thicker, leave it in a ball. Try it both ways!
Bake 10-14 minutes, until lightly browned on the edges. Cool completely on a wire cooling rack.
The original recipe calls for an icing instead of rolling in sugar. If you want to ice them, flatten slightly before baking, do not roll them in sugar.When the cookies are cool, spread the icing over the cookies.
Icing Recipe
2 Cups Powdered Sugar
1 Tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 teaspoons light cream or milk. More or less as needed for spreading consistency.