Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chasing Moments


This week I received word that a friend had died; he had been ill for a while, and lived in Europe, and although I knew this news would come someday, I was surprised by how hard it hit me.  I've said before that death and I have a dance we do....I've lost plenty of people in my life, and each one is still tied to me with memories, letters, thoughts or postcards in my mind.  We creative types sometimes over think things, and it gets us into trouble, dragging us to places we have no business being; but thinking about Robert, and his life, and how many people we had in common, also had me thinking about the last time I saw him and how genuinely happy he was to see me. Although I know he would have preferred the company of Dr C so they could talk history and politics, he was his gentlemanly self with a twinkly smile, and a rapier wit.

 As I have let my mind wander, I thought back over the last 2 weeks while our children were here visiting; we had many moments with our granddaughter Poppy that I will remember, but I fear they will only be photos on a screen for her in later years.  How do we make those moments last in our mind; how are we our best selves every minute of the day?....I admit to losing it a couple of times while everyone was here....not a pretty picture, and one I wish I could erase but it's there, and the only thing I can do is hope and pray that I will be better the next time, living each day as best I can, honestly, and with humility.
Losing our friends, and family brings the reality of our own lives into sharper focus.  I've been struggling lately with the fact that there is no next book on the horizon, and although I love what I do, my focus has been somewhat blurred, and I'm not sure what that means.  Losing Robert has put that all into perspective for's not about what I do, it's how I do it, making each one of those moments in time shine. 
I'll be back later this week with some recipes, and thoughts on gift giving for the holidays, until then, hug your loved is precious, and all too often we ignore it. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

In the Bag


My friends at Specialty Produce put together another amazing bag for us last week, and the Great News class was so much fun to teach!  If you bought the bag and haven't used all your fruits and veggies, here are a few more recipes to get you through the week.  
Jerusalem Artichoke and Sierra Gold Potato Gratin
Serves 6 to 8

1 pound Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes) scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 pound Sierra Gold potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 clove garlic, minced
2 leeks, cleaned, and finely chopped, using the white and tender green parts
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme
6 drops Tabasco
1 1/2 cups finely shredded Gruyere or imported Swiss cheese
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano

1.     Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and coat the inside of a 9-inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
2.     In a large skillet, heat the artichokes, potatoes, milk, cream, garlic, leeks, thyme and Tabasco and cook 5 to 6 minutes, until the vegetables are almost done; they will be firm, but a knife will pierce them easily. 
3.     Transfer the vegetables to the prepared pan, and sprinkle with the cheeses. 
4.     Bake the gratin for 30 to 40 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the cheeses are golden brown. Allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.  (Great with grilled meats, chicken, or seafood)

Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes
Serves 6

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 pound Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
1 bay leaf

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat and add the garlic and lemon zest, and sauté for 30 seconds until the garlic is fragrant.  Add the artichokes and bay leaf, cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the artichokes are softened.  Remove the cover, and cook another 5 minutes over high heat, to evaporate the juices, and crisp up the outer edges of the artichokes.  Serve immediately. 
Makes 3 quarts
Satsuma Mandarins are amazing, sweet nuggets that are delicious all by themselves, to open and eat anytime for a snack, but the people at Southern Living gave me the idea to try them in a homemade Limoncello-like liqueur.  Giving them all the credit, this is the recipe that appeared in this month's issue.
The recipe is easily halved, if you only want to make a small batch.

20 Satsuma mandarin oranges
2 (750 milliliter) bottles vodka
4 cups sugar

  1. Peel the oranges using vegetables peeler, reserving flesh for another use  
  2. Scrape bitter white pitch from the rind in a large glass pitcher or 3 quart jar; pour vodka over strips.  Cover and let stand at room temperature 7 to 10 days.  
  3. Bring sugar and 5 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  
  4. Reduce heat to low, and simmer stirring occasionally, 1 minute or until sugar is dissolved.  
  5. Remove from heat; let stand 30 minutes.  
  6. Pour syrup into vodka mixture.  Cover and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours.  
  7. Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into another pitcher, discarding orange rind strips.
  8. Pour into bottles or Mason jars; seal and chill 4 hours before serving.  Store in the refrigerator up to 1 month. 
As you get ready for Thanksgiving, I hope that you are enjoying the moments with your family and friends.  A little wine, a bit of whimsy and lots of good cheer help to fill holidays with good times and great memories.  Salute!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving

If you haven’t already thought about Thanksgiving, it’s time; we have 2 weeks until the big day, and if you aren’t prepared, it’s time to get your lists out and check them twice. 

Thanksgiving is the holiday that most people stress over; there is family anxiety and there is food anxiety.  The food anxiety can disappear if you follow a few easy guidelines, and (hopefully) read my books on how to make the Do-Ahead Thanksgiving Dinner.  Here’s a list of tips to get you started:

  • Get your knives sharpened now; I’ve never cut myself with anything but a dull knife, and during Thanksgiving week, no one will have time to sharpen them for you. 
  • Order your turkey now; figure ¾ pound per person if you want some leftovers, or 1 pound per person if you want to send people home with doggie bags.  Fresh turkeys taste so much better—some of the frozen turkeys may be the ones that were fresh last year.

  • Make up your shopping list now

  •  Divide the shopping list into parts:  Non-perishables---include paper towels, and trash bags if needed.  This would be all the items that are shelf stable and can be stored, as well as alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. You can shop for these now---better to get this out of the way.
  • Perishables:  fresh fruits and vegetables --- shop for these 2 to 3 days ahead of the holiday
  • Dairy products and frozen foods:  butter, cream, milk, sour cream, ice cream, frozen veg etc. can all be purchased now, they have long shelf lives in the fridge/freezer.
  • If you are ordering rolls, pick these up the day before
  • Give yourself permission to have someone else do the work; if you have a great bakery, have them make the pies, rolls or desserts.  Veggie trays take 2 to 3 hours for preparing all the veg---go to your warehouse store, buy the veggie tray and make your own dip—no one will ever know!
  • Set your table a few days ahead of time, making sure all your serving dishes will fitJ; cover the table with a sheet, and that will keep the kids/animals and dust off the table.
  • If you are having more than 8 people at the table, set up a buffet for serving, then direct people to the table for seating.

  • To stave off hunger, serve a self-serve soup from your slow cooker, set on warm; guests can help themselves if the smells from the kitchen are making them hungry.
  •  If you can only make two things ahead, make the gravy and mashed potatoes, they are the last minute things that make cooks nutty with the gravy ending up lumpy and the potatoes watery. 
·         These are the top 12 pieces of equipment to pull off the perfect thanksgiving dinner:
o   Heavy Duty Roasting Pan (All-Clad and Mauviel are tops here)
o   Cuisipro roasting rack with removable pin
o   Sauce whisk
o   3-quart saucier for gravy (All-Clad wins here)
o   Emile Henry or Le Creuset oven to tableware
o   Silicone food loops
o   Carving knife ( I prefer one with granton/hollow ground)
o   Silicone basting brush
o   More Than Gourmet©  Turkey Stock Base (reconstitute for gravy)or Superior Touch Better than Bouillon Turkey soup Base
o   Oxo Peeler
o   Meat thermometer (either Taylor/Polder probe, or instant read---I have both )
o   Fat separator (Oxo wins here)

Students always ask what brand of knife I recommend; any high end retail store will carry a selection of good quality knives:  Wusthof, Shun, Messermeister,  and Global are all great brands and it will come down to what feels right in your hand.  If the knife feels too heavy you will never use it, if it feels too light, it will wobble in your hand, and you won’t feel comfortable with it---make sure to test drive the knives (any reputable kitchen store will let you hold the knives, and feel which is right for you)  If you have read this blog, you know where I teach, and the staff at each of these places will take good care of you, making sure that you find the right knife to fit you. 
And promise me you will never carve the turkey at the table!  It's a recipe for disaster! 
I’m on my way home after 3 weeks of teaching pressure cooker classes, and will have more to say on this subject with some new recipes in the coming days.  I hope you have a great day---now get out that list!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Soup's On!

I spent the weekend in Central Pennsylvania, at The Kitchen Shoppe, and taught 4 classes in 3 days; it was a whirlwind, but I love this part of the country, and this Shoppe, and the students.  A converted barn, the manager used to board her horses in the lower part (this is the back of the property)  The leaves were still on the trees, in spite of the snow that fell the week before (so glad I wasn't here!)  At our Do-ahead Thanksgiving class, I prepared a soup that wasn't in the students' packets, and wanted to share it with them, and with you if you are in the mood for soup, this is a winner any night of the week.  It's terrific garnished with lump crab, or goat cheese, or crostini.  

Silky Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 8

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
One medium sweet yellow onion, finely chopped
One medium apple, finely chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
6 to 7 cups butternut squash, peeled, and cut into 1-inch chunks (about 2 pounds)
8 cups of chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

  1. In a 5-quart saucepan, melt the butter, and saute the onion, apple and thyme for 3 minutes, to soften the onion.  
  2. Add the squash and toss to coat with the butter. 

Add the broth, cover, and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes until the squash is tender.  cook's note: if you have a pressure cooker, cook at high pressure for 5 minutes, release the pressure naturally, and proceed.
Puree the soup with an immersion blender, and add the cream. 

Taste for seasoning and add salt or pepper. 

I hope you all had a great weekend, I'm in DC headed to Chapel Hill, NC tomorrow and teach on Wednesday night.  I'm headed home to Dr. C. on Thursday and will be ready!  Here are a few snaps from the trip to Pennsylvania.