"LIVE! LIVE! LIVE! Life's a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death"
attributed to Mame Dennis

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Menu

Local Fruit Wines: Montezuma "Cranberry Bog" & Goose Watch "Barlett Pear"
Crackers, olives and other assorted nibbles

Roasted Chestnut Soup

Roasted Suckling Pig
Red Onion & Kidney Stuffing
Maple Glazed Salmon (pork alternative for one guest)
Baby Spinach & Arugula Salad with Roasted Red Anjou Pears & Spiced Walnuts
Squash dish (made by a friend)
Broccoli Sauteed with Almonds & Pimenton
Walnut Bread served with Jersey Butter

Paired with
Standing Stone 2008 Riesling (off dry)
Vertical Tasting of Lamoreaux Landing Merlots (2005, 2006 & 2007)

Pumpkin Cheesecake
Gingerbread Pear Cobbler
Brownies (made by Pat)
Maple Walnut & French Vanilla Ice Creams

Thankgiving Prep

My kitchen is a flurry of activity today. So much to get ready for tomorrow's feast!

The faint of heart, be warned. Photos of my ingredients follow, including the star of the meal, a suckling pig. (Nothing graphic, just food looking like what it is.)

There are chestnuts and pear chunks roasting in the oven, with spiced walnuts on deck.

Aperitifs and white wines for dinner are in the wine cooler, chilling. The serving china has been washed, the soup bowls are drying in the strainer, and the rest of the dishes will be done in turn.

Walnut bread rising.

This morning we went to Autumn's Harvest Farm to pick up the pig.

The pig froze a little in the cooler last night, so I am letting it thaw a bit before rubbing it down with olive oil, salt and pepper. Then it will rest in the fridge until tomorrow morning.

Later today I will make the base for the chestnut soup (everything but the cream, which I will add when I warm it prior to serving.) The gingerbread cobbler needs to be made this afternoon as well.

What am I doing writing a post on the blog? Back to the kitchen with me!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Challenge Update: A week with no shopping

This morning, we ended up having to go into the big city (a/k/a Ithaca), so breakfast out (again) and quite filling it was.
Pat had a bowl of the white bean and chorizo soup as a snack in the afternoon.
I simmered a stock of leftover beef bones (ribs, both short and long), along with some veg scraps from the freezer (chard stems and leek greens.) I hope to make some French Onion soup on Saturday night, as I will have had a very long day at work. Onions have become like gold. I am fairly stocked, but not as well as I thought. I don't think I realised how many onions I go through. Maybe I give some thought to sources.
Dinner as inspired by Molly Wizenberg's article and recipe on kale in October's Bon Appetit. I followed the recipe-- braising half a bunch of kale left from this weekend's decor-fest with onion and plenty of garlic. It took much less than the suggested 20 minutes, despite having added watr. I deglazed with some Sauv Blanc that got left open last night, and crumbled in two Gianelli's hot Italian sausage patties (who have been sequestered in our downstairs freezer from the grillin' days of summer.) In the meantime, I boiled water for the orphaned pastas in my lazy susan pantry: 1/3 box rotini, 1/3 box of ditalini, a handful of linguini (ok, I'm holding on to some of this for later this week.) The pasta was then tossed into the kale and sausage mixture, and served with some freshly grated parm and a squeeze of lemon. Really delicious, and will be repeated even when I can shop! (I'd like to experiment with frozen spinach, but suspect the texture won't be nearly as good.)

We've learned: kale + sausage (Hot Italian, Chorizo...) + something starchy (beans, pasta)= Success.

I'm discovering that week will hardly put a dent in our stash. We could probably live on lentils for a week, if necessary (and we've only lived in the house since late June!) I will keep it going as long as I can, allowing for purchases of necessary perishables, as well as everything for Thanksgiving.

I must confess, Reverend Mother, Patrick bought milk today (mainly for coffee, though I will use it for cooking as necessary,) and a Hershey bar that he had for lunch (despite there being delicious leftovers in the fridge.)

We both had store brand Cheerios for breakfast today, which I later supplemented with cardomom glazed carrots & parsnips and gorgonzola polenta leftover from the Winemaker's Dinner I worked at last week. (These were side dishes to some amazing braised short ribs, also from Autumn's Harvest. Sam Izzo is a genius!) I may try to recreate this polenta for Christmas. It was beautiful.

I found a dying cauliflower in the back of my fridge, which I had been meaning to roast. Unfortunately, no time for that today, so I made a big batch of Curried Cauilflower soup. I foolishly added too much water, but in a blaze of inspiration I added the pureed root veg leftover from Sunday's braised ribs. This is the sort of creativity I was hoping this challenge would bring forth.
Both are good, so the combo shouldn't be bad. I'll have a bowl for dinner, topped with a dollop of yogurt, and pasta/sausage/kale leftover from last night. Pat is having the one remaining rib and maybe some soup as well.

I am working all day tomorrow, so we'll see how I do under those circumstances. I am defrosting some lump crabmeat that my mum sent up from Maryland.

This challenge is already starting to effect the way I think. Today, I decided to stop agonizing over what wine to buy for Thanksgiving. There are several choices amongst the collection of bottles that I hoard that will be splendid. After all, isn't this one of those special occasions I've been saving them for?

I needed a greasy breakfast today: a hot italian sausage patty (must use them up now that I've defrosted the pack!) and a couple fried eggs. (Gosh, the eggs are running low!)

I took leftovers to work: kale & sausage pasta and some cauliflower, etc. soup. Crabcakes tonight!

I'd had a pound of lump crab mead from MD in my fridge since late August. I put it in the fridge to defrost since last night, and it still wasn't close to defrosted when I got home from work today. I was hesitant to defrost in the microwave, but determined to have the crab cakes tonight. I zapped it in 20 sec intervals and after a minute or so, it was thawed enough to squeeze out and mix with the seasonings. No visible harm done to the meat-- phew! (I used the Chesepeake Crab Cake recipe on the Old Bay website. It worked very well.) I served the cakes on a bed of romaine. The lemon vinaigrette used up a half of lemon in my fridge, but was a little too oily. Will work on the balance.
I missed with the beautiful, buttery Chardonnay I paired with this dish. We would have been better off with a nice, crisp (dry) Riesling. That'll teach me to second guess Dornenburg & Page.

For breakfast I made biscuits and sausage gravy, to use up the rest of the package of sausage patties I opened earlier this week. I've never made this at home, but often order it when we go out for breakfast. Quite successful, considering. Delicious fresh biscuits made from scratch with hot sausage gravy over top, and there's enough for tomorrow morning too. Yay!

Lunch was a little of this and that: a couple leftover empanadas and leftover white bean, kale and chorizo soup.

In the meantime, I went rummaging in our shed to get out the china for Thanksgiving. Our dishes all used to be Pat's mother's. There is a blue willow style pattern, which we use daily, and a pink one that has been packed away. Pat said the pink set would be appropriate for Thanksgiving, as it depicts scenes from American history. What a treasure! They are so charming, and there is such a great variety. I was thinking I might have to buy some serving dishes for the side dishes on Thanksgiving, but this give me an abundance to work with-- and all matching! Hurray for no shopping!

For dinner we had a package of frozen mussels that I found hiding in the freezer. The flavor is nowhere good as fresh, but I bought two packages cheap as an experiment so these had to get eaten! I steamed them with chorizo, onions and a splash of Gewurztraminer, and served with a biscuit to soak up the tasty juice.

Before going to sleep, I sliced 3 small onions from the precious store, tossed with some olive oil, dried thyme, s&p and a splash of Gewurztraminer, and popped them into the crockpot to caramelize overnight.

I started the the day with a healthy serving of biscuits & sausage gravy, and steam some basmati rice to take to work and have with some of the curried cauliflower, etc. soup. I also have made a salad from some fading Napa cabbage and leftover sesame/soy dressing. This should do for lunch both Saturday & Sunday.

It was great to come home after a long day and know I was only minutes away from a great meal. I had made the stock and caramelized the onions ahead of time, so I just warmed these in a sauce pan with a glug of port.

There was a some crabmeat left from the other night, so I shaped it into little crab cakes to serve as appitizer and broiled this for a couple minutes. These wouldn't hold together, so I decided to toss the crab into a salad with romaine hearts and leftover lemon vinaigrette (with extra lemon added.) This turned out to be the ideal counterpart to the soup.

There were lots of crostini leftover from my mom's birthday party the other week, which I froze and will be happy to have in the next couple weeks. A couple of these crostini were used as croutons for the French Onion soup.

Next I set out to clean out the cheese drawer in my fridge. Very little gruyere, and lots of pieces from Cowlick, our friend Andy's farm (yes-- THAT cheese farm.) Patrick, my faithful sous chef, grated an assortment of these until we had the right amount for two crockfuls of bubbly soup and cheese.

Having decided on the wines for Thanksgiving, I also decided I had to try a bottle of Lamoreaux 2005 Merlot to make sure it hadn't completely gone off the edge. It was a delightful pairing with the soup, with lots of nice berry flavours. It may be slightly past its peak, but still a great wine. Looking forward to the vertical tasting with the Thanksgiving feast.

What a satisfying, boost of a meal!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Challenge: A week with no shopping

I have a pantry, fridge and freezer full of food, yet always come up with something I need to run to town to get. I've read about this challenge on other blogs and always thought it made a lot of sense.
Limitations always bring out creativity. It's especially relevant to us right now because (A) we want to save as much money as possible for our upcoming trip, (B) we don't want to leave food to rot or get stale while we are away for 2+ months, and (C) my temp job finished last week, so I could use a project.

As luck would have it, my compatriots on the eGullet message board decided to repeat this challenge this very week, so I will have some company and support on the journey. I know I waste food, and this week I will attempt to be more mindful about it. 

Brunch: Sportsman's Club Fundraiser
Dinner: Beef Back Ribs Two Ways

Breakfast: Out and about
Lunch: Leftover ribs, romaine heart salad with dill-mustard vinaigrette from recesses of the fridge

For dinner tonight, we had a white bean, kale and chorizo soup.
The chorizo is from an excellent local farm (Autumn's Harvest), and has been in my freezer since the farmer's market in September/October. I sauteed this with some garlic, then added some shredded kale (some was used this weekend for decoration at a Harvest Dinner I worked at)
and two cans of cannellini beans from my pantry. No stock necessary, just filled up with some water and simmered for half an hour to glorious results. I love this sort of recipes, simple but so delicious. I shaved parmesean over the top to serve. So glad there are leftovers. I bet it will be even better tomorrow.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tarte Tatin

It's a good thing I picked up a cast iron pan in time for apple season. I've been taking full advantage of both. Inspired by Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution (and how can you not be?), I decided to give Tarte Tatin a whirl. Not only that, but I made my own pie crust, after years of buying them frozen.
What took me so long?

This dessert is simple, as Waters promises, and simultaneously rustic and elegant. It celebrates wholesome, delicious ingredients without complication:
Pie Crust (Homemade or store bought) 
2-3 Apples (I used local Tompkins King apples.) 
Butter, 2 Tbsp.
Sugar, 6 Tbsp.

First, I prepared an entire recipe of Waters' "Tart & Pie Dough" from earlier in the book, refrigerating one half for the Tarte Tatin and freezing the other half for next time. (It ended up making the trip to Maryland in my cooler for the Tarte Tatin I made for my apple loving brother.)

Peel and core apples. Slice into thin segments (eights or sixteenths). It is important that they are as uniform as possible.
Oven preheated to 400°F. Butter and sugar combined in a 9-inch cast iron pan over medium heat. Stir until caramelized, careful not to burn! Remove the pan from heat. My caramel making skills need a lot of work, mainly because it involves paying careful attention and not getting distracted. This is a great example of how cooking can make me a better person. The promise of delicious, unburned caramel may be just the incentive I need to train myself.
Arrange apple slices perpendicular to the outside edge of the pan, pointy sides up. Make another ring inside that one. Then fill these rings in, pointy sides down this time, nestled between the first set of rings. Fill in gaps with smaller pieces. Lay pastry over the apples, tucking it between the apples and the pan.
Bake 30-40 minutes. Give the pan a gentle shake when you take it out of the oven, to loosen the apples. Put the serving plate face down over the pan and flip over. Gently lift the pan off. Serve with vanilla ice cream, yogurt, whipped cream, or just naked. Delicious warm or at room temp. Delightful with ice wine.

 This is how I made my Tarte Tatin, but this narrative is no substitute for Waters' eloquent description of her method in The Art of Simple Food. I highly recommend checking the book out, particularly the practical and poetic piece on "Rolling Out Tart Dough," which was a revelation.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Birthday Party

Last week, I drove down to Maryland to surprise my mom for her 60th birthday. My brothers and I agreed about a month ago that we should do something special for her. As so often happens with anything involving me and event planning, the whole thing snowballed into an open house with everyone we could think of invited.

I cooked as much as possible ahead of time and took it down with me in a cooler. (empanada fillings, cheesecake) I also arrived armed with ingredients and spices that I didn't want to be missing or have to run out to buy if there wasn't any in my parents' house. (I didn't expect them not to have onions.) I made good time driving and made the caponata that afternoon. The next day, I baked the chocolate cake, and drafted my Oma into helping me assemble the empanadas. I was glad we had the frozen tapas (empanada dough) because we ended up making 120 of them!

The day of the party, I laid out serving dishes and the like. I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to avoid my mom's questions. (We tried to keep it a bit of a surprise, but she could tell by the amount of food that it wasn't going to be just a "family dinner" as we had told her.)

Prunes & Bacon, Nora's Classic Hors D'Oeuvre

Finger Lakes Cheese Board
Cowlick Farm Raw Jersey Milk Cheeses
Lively Run Goat Farm Chevre, plain and herbs de provence
Tompkins King Apple Slices
Assorted crackers

Caponata with crostini

Aunt Loreen's Tortilla Dip with chips
(mandatory at any family function)

Aunt Patricia's sandwiches de miga

Carne-- Ground beef with hard boilded eggs, green olives and raisins
Barbeque-- Pulled pork with Dinosaur BBQ's Roasted Garlic & Honey Sauce
Humita-- Corn with roasted red peppers in a white sauce
Calabaza-- Maple roasted butternut and acorn squashes, mashed with cinnamon and nutmeg

Chef Karl's Protein Platter (my youngest brother's contribution)
(Bite sized pieces to be eaten with toothpicks) 
Pork Tenderloin * Petite Filet of Beef * Another cut of beef, which escapes me at the moment * Argentine Chorizo

Served with trio of sauces
Demi Glace * Chimichurri * Spicy Citrus

"Queen of Our Hearts" salad 
Hearts of Romaine & Hearts of Palm with salsa golf (Thousand Island dressing)
Baby Spinach & Arugula salad  
with roasted pears and spiced walnuts, served with balsamic vinagrette

Mulled Cider, with rum to spike (if desired)

NY Style Cheesecake
Chocolate Cappuccino Torte
served with vanilla & coffee ice creams

photo courtesy Cristina Green

The empanadas were the most popular item. The pulled pork being the favorite filling. I thought it turned out too salty, but apparently it wasn't too bad! We could have made twice as many and they would have been happily eaten. Warming them up was a bit of a hassle, since I had hostessing duties as well. Luckily, my Tante Rita (mom's sister visiting from California) took this over for a time.

I had printed up a menu, to cut up and make labels with, but this only got done for the empanadas.
Each different filling had a different closure, so I could tell which was which, but that didn't help anyone else. I didn't want to tackily stick the papers on the serving dishes and I couldn't come up with better at the time. Next time I do a party with this sort of set up, especially with this number of people (about 60 in the end, way more than the house was ever intended to hold!), I will find a way to do labels. Small picture frames would be nice.

Also, I should have done a lot more pre-cutting of cheese and putting caponata on crostini, not leaving this for people to do themselves. I think alot more would have been eaten this way.  Live and learn!

In the end, it was a very successful event. People seemed to be having a good time, and I don't think anyone went home hungry. Most importantly, my mom had a ball seeing all the familiar, loving faces there to celebrate her.