Thursday, December 16, 2010

L’s Deliciously Classic Stuffing with a Smitten Surprise

My “little” sister (as I call her, because she’s petite like a beautiful ballerina even though I’m actually the youngest) volunteered to help with the stuffing this Thanksgiving.  L used to do almost all the wow factor cooking at home, one exceptional favorite of mine is her samosas from the Moosewood Cookbook.  She is extremely patient and detail oriented in the kitchen, whereas I prefer to tackle a bazillion enormous tasks as fast as I can in the messiest manner possible.  I have been called, on more than one occasion, a tornado in the kitchen…L isn’t like that.  But now that she has a 1 year old adorable little boy to attend to she doesn’t have quite the same amount of time to spend crafting culinary confections.  But she made perfectly moist, chewy, crunchy and yummmmmy stuffing.  We took a simple and stunning idea I saw on Smitten Kitchen and popped the stuffing inside these cute little onion cups to serve.  They were purple, white, and striking on the Thanksgiving table.  I love them and they added great flavor to the yummy stuffing inside. 

If you read my turkey post you know that the name of this side dish is a bit of a misnomer because it wasn’t ever stuffed into anything (aside from the onion cups in the end that is!).  I don’t stuff turkeys or chickens with anything I’m going to eat afterwards. Salmanella.  The whole concept kind of grosses me out, it cooks in the raw blood and poultry juices, eww.  I think it’s from my years as a vegetarian, but also it is safer to make your stuffing out of the bird because its so much easier to control the taste and cooking time.  This method really didn’t take much extra time, the insides of the onions were used in the stuffing and I was very pleased with the results.  We had lots of extra stuffing too, which is perfect for leftovers.

Recipe for Stuffing:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Turkey Time, Happy Thanksgiving

Turkey Time.

I was at my boyfriend’s high-school reunion soirée at a dirty local bar when it hit me: Thanksgiving traditions, like old friends, are things you find comfort in when they’re just like how you remembered and not much different.  Sure a little updating here and there can be a good thing (a better job, a hotter girlfriend) but beyond that, any drastic or shocking changes are most usually met with discomfort and a nostalgic desire for the way it used to be.  So there we were dancing the night away and with the alcoholic haze rushing in I noticed that the length of how long it had been since they all had seen one another was beginning to blur.  And mostly, though they could still recite their 11th grade class schedule from first period onwards, and could tell you exactly who so and so used to like before she kissed what’s his name, they most certainly could not tell you anything of substance about the person standing in front of them (or in this case, flipping their hair back and forth on the bar).  And that is precisely why reunions at bars are so enjoyable.  Because no wants to hear how things have changed, they just want to spend some time with the past.  The same can be said for your holiday recipes.  You haven’t seen them since last Thanksgiving, you most certainly want nothing to do with them in July and you want them to taste just how you remember from years gone by. 

So this year, even though it was my first time cooking for the big dinner, I really tried to keep the recipes familiar.  At first I considered doing a butterflied turkey breast rolled into a log with stuffing and sliced like a sausage (no joke, it looked delish!). But I knew that people weren’t coming to sit at the table and be wowed; they were there to be comforted.  These recipes are all warm, welcoming, unassuming and simple.  So go ahead, swap fresh cranberries for dried and add a teaspoon of almond extract to your pecan pie, but please, don’t by any means cancel any of the following on your Thanksgiving table: the turkey, the stuffing, and the cranberry sauce.  Consider them the holy trinity of all things November.  And actually, if it’s your first time entertaining and you’re a little overwhelmed, make just these three, serve them on a beautiful table setting, and pair them with a host of lovely bottles of wine…(by the end of the meal no one will remember that the green-bean casserole was mysteriously absent).

The secret to perfectly cooked, absolutely delicious turkey that requires NO guesswork, NO heavy lifting, and NO chance of screwing it up..(well I doubt that can really be said of anything in life, but I promise this comes close)…is not roasting the turkey whole.  Buy it from the butcher or grocery store pre-sliced into quarters/pieces.  Just make sure to get a mixture of legs, thighs and breast meat in case your guests like both light and dark.

An anecdote on the dangers of whole turkeys.  Written from personal experience.

I could make a long list of horror stories I’ve only heard of about turkeys.  Starting with not fully cooking the bird to charring the whole carcass.  And it’s no surprise! The things are heavy, you buy them in double-digit pounds, and they’re quite large.  Actually if you’ve never seen a live turkey in person it’s quite a sight.  So is a live cow though (both are so much bigger than I ever imagined as a child living in LA, a social light year away from anything resembling a farm).  But this little gem of a turkey horror story actually happened to me.

It was the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah and my mother insisted on making roasted turkey, as had been tradition since I can remember…though I can’t imagine anyone was doing it while wandering in the desert for 40 years.  But personal doubts aside, I did want to help my mom who had a hard time taking out the massive turkey from the oven every hour or so to rotate it in the tomato juice.  My first attempt at it I opened the oven door, planted my feet in a sumo wrestler stance and bent at the knees to lift the giant pan out of the oven.  But my arms were no match for the mighty bird which slid to the back of the pan under its own weight causing a huge wave of tomato and raw turkey juice to splash onto the floor of the oven and erupt into a minor fire, which singed my eyebrows as I had half my body almost inside the oven trying to get a good grip on the massive roasting pan.  The incident, which thankfully was all in all quite minor, still caused the strongest lethal fear of turkey ever known to a child.  (At least the ones I’ve met who’ve never been exposed to the violent turkeys of the wild.)

SO the point is, buy your turkey in PIECES!!!!  There is no point to roasting a turkey whole for the following reasons:

#1 As clearly articulated, its dangerous!
#2 It’s hard to get the cooking temperatures right for both the light and dark meats. (Thanks Les!)
#3 You don’t have to rotate it or constantly attend to it.
#4 It cooks in half the time.
#5 It's much much much easier to carve.
#6 You serve the bird all chopped up on a platter anyhow so who the heck’s going to even know!

Roast Rosemarie Turkey Recipe

1 stick (¼ lb.) butter
1 lemon
1 whole head of garlic
10 stems of fresh rosemary (but dried in a jar will do)
10-12 lbs. turkey pieces defrosted
black pepper

Melt the butter and set it aside.  Slice the lemon and onion into large pieces and slice the head of garlic in half horizontally so that each little clove is halved.  Take out a large roasting pan and place the lemon, onion and garlic pieces along with the rosemary springs spread out on the bottom the pan.  

Take out your defrosted turkey pieces and pat them dry with a paper towel.  Sprinkle salt and pepper all over both sides of the meat to completely cover it with seasoning then brush the melted butter on them. 

Place the chicken pieces on top of everything in the pan.  Roast it @ 350° for 2 ½ hrs. To see if its ready cut into the thickest portion of the meat and make sure the juices run clear.  Before carving, cover the roasting pan with foil and let the turkey rest for about 20 minutes.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cranberry and Walnut White Chocolate Bark

Cranberry and Walnut White Chocolate Bark

Sometimes the simplest recipes bring the most delightful results.  I like to add just a touch of home baked to entertaining menus or gifts and this recipe is a perfect way to do just that.  The bark is easy to make and looks gorgeous in a little cellophane bag or a metal tin tied with a ribbon and a card.  I like to make these to give as gifts or just have in my home for when friends come over.  I particularly love the colors of this combination for fall but you can add anything you like from other candies to all sorts of nuts and dried fruit to make a bark that you'd like to bite.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Barefoot Contessa's Pecan Squares

The Barefoot Contessa’s Pecan Squares

Thanks to a very thoughtful early birthday present, I decided to make my absolute favorite Ina recipe inspired by my new cookbook.  I haven’t always loved the Barefoot Contessa, in fact at first I really didn’t like the idea of anyone being barefoot in the kitchen.  But her recipes are absolutely indulgent and amazing.  Some of them are a bit complicated but her focus on classic flavor combinations that sing is the most signature aspect of her cooking that makes all recipes so magnificent. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Little Bites of Chocolate

Little Bites of Chocolate

These little bites of amazing are so so unbelievably indulgently good.  Zero talent is required to make them, no oven is required to bake them and you really can’t even mess up the quantities.  I hesitated to even include them on what I am trying to craft as a reliable, established and upper-crust food blog.  But, I realized that I want to make cooking and crafting your own food enjoyable, and this is an excellent way to start.

An intern in my office brought these Little Bites in to work one summer day, and my colleagues, and I, went ballistic over them.  Free office food, much like free samples, has an ability to transcend all barriers separating our hands from our mouths.  It hardly matters in the office setting if you’re even hungry, if there is food it will be eaten.  But these Little Bites were so impressive that I tried them out at a bake sale a week later and won a $10 gift certificate for bringing the best selling contribution. Money. In. The. Bank. 

So having built up this much hype, I hope you enjoy!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Crunchy Panko Crusted Chicken Strips

Freshman year of High School a lunch period changed my life.  A friend of mine with Russian parents brought a very peculiar sandwich to school:  two slices of white bread, a lettuce leaf and a chicken cutlet coated in a fried egg.  It was at that initial big-bang moment when I realized just how interested I was in food.  Looking back, I spent that entire week just thinking about that egg and how exactly it got itself fried and perfectly wrapped around a piece of chicken.  It was intriguing!  And it launched my foray into the world of shnitzle.  Baked, fried, spiced…I love a chicken and I’ve tried it all. 

BUT…this is by far my favorite recipe for anything related to the nugget.  Forget egg mixtures, boring bread crumbs and a bubble bath of oil.  This recipe is brilliant because: #1 An egg really doesn’t have all that much flavor, and it has a high fat and calorie content.  #2 I’m scared of deep frying; I don’t want to get burned or fat.  And #3 This is quick, easy to manipulate and bite for bite delivers maximum flavor potential to a piece of white meat.  SPOILER ALERT: The trick here is coating the chicken not in egg, not in milk, butter milk or the cream squeezed out of anything but pure flavor…mustard, spice, honey and lemon juice.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Little Pumpkin Pie Sundaes

Happy Halloween!
As soon as I finish writing this post I intend to wiki "trick or treating" to figure out how this bizarre  tradition began.  Over the years, my affection for the Halloween holiday has ebbed and flowed.  In the early early years there was the enormous candy stash, the miserable attempt at getting costumes on our dog Impie (…named after the African warrior tribe...see the About tab), and the exhausting night of marathon trick-or-treating laps around the neighborhood.  And once the hurdle of adolescence was cleared and my true obsession with cooking and all things sweet began, Halloween became the best kind of holiday there is.  No awkward family dinners, no religious significance (apologies for the oversight on my Pagan readers) and lots of delicious fun to be had.  This week, although I will be participating in the usual hooplah (costume hint: Chilean Miner) I still wanted to make something with a touch more “young professional food blogger” and a hint less of “hungover Halloween hooker”. So this recipe is not just a celebration of the holiday and one of my most favorite traditions (pumpkin carving!) but also a warm welcome to the fall season and an affectionate nod to the winter treats to come.

I love pie.  But I’ve learnt in the worst of ways that no one likes bad pie, and when you accidently swap the sugar for the salt in a crust recipe you’re headed down a windy and dangerous road to bad pie.  The problem with pie baking is that you cant quite tell how its going to taste until it’s all finished and baked and you might (I speak from experience) be left with something used to melt the snow outside rather than warm your friends indoors.  Admittedly I tried to salvage this disaster by dusting the pieces with sugar before serving, to no avail.  So this recipe solves just that predicament.  You can taste the crust before serving anything and you can make the quantities much smaller so as not to be left with a half a leftover pie sitting in your fridge for days on end, past its prime and hiding the vegetables.

These are perfect for a cozy afternoon, a pumpkin carving party or a sweet dessert anytime in autumn.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Raisin Rye Round Bread

I love plump little raisins in my baking, so I love this recipe.  The bread is earthy, warm and inviting.  Making fresh bread has some magical ability to inspire piles of self confidence, because bread baking is such a hallmark of cooking talent. And even though this recipe is so quick and so easy, the feeling lasts just the same.  My friend Alix first introduced this recipe to me when she found it in a magazine when we were seniors at UCLA.  This was a time full of late night cooking sprees after coming home from late nights out in the Westwood “scene”.  Freshman year was about take out cheese-fries, but by the time graduation rolled around we were stumbling back at 2am to Alix’s off-campus apartment to bake raisin and Irish soda breads.  I hope the maturity of this progression is applauded.  Which proves (many things) but most relevant here, that the recipe is quite simple and produces outstanding results (comparable to 2am cheese-fries).

About My Blog

My mother has a passionate fear of any modern technology created to simplify life.  She prefers written checks to ATM cards, never shops online and is personally offended by the concept of call waiting.  She’s also from South Africa, so perhaps it’s to be expected that in 1973 when she moved here she carried with her to the New World both the British notion of formalities and niceties along with the African ideal of honoring our past.  So as is the logical progression, the whole concept of restaurant food, well established as it may seem to you and me, still innately bothers her.  Even if you’re eating at LeCirque it’s still an admonition that you are failing to prepare food for your own family.  And while I hardly subscribe to this life philosophy I can’t help but admit I think it has influenced my warm hearted and nostalgic indulgence for cooking.  But though the Barefoot Contessa and my Mom are my cooking inspirations, this blog is about the food I actually cook.  I don’t have a Cuisinart or a set of All-Clad pots and pans; my mom has instilled a mortal superstition in me that those are for girls that are married, and buying them prior to matrimony is tantamount to wearing a ring you bought yourself on your left hand.  So I persevere onwards, with my little recipes I make for lunches for one, dinners for two and desserts for my friends.  I don’t have too much money to spend on fancy ingredients and I don’t have too much time to spend baking.  Mostly because I get bored, cook only during commercial breaks of such classics as Jersey Shore and Gossip Girl, and often can’t decide what I’m going to make until I’ve just gotten home from work.  But once in a while, for something special, I’ll take the time to use an extra sprinkling of sugar.

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