It was a dessert heavy holiday.

I don’t know about you but my holiday was very sweet. I baked a red velvet cake for my birthday . . .

IMPORTANT reminder … do not use low-fat cream cheese. Full fat is the only thing that will work. I learned that the hard way.

I used Martha Stewarts recipe. It uses more chocolate than most other recipes so really the result is a nicely chocolaty cake. The recipe also uses and INSANE amount of red food coloring. FOUR bottles (ounces). Seriously. I only used three and the cake was dark, dark red. Two would have been sufficient I suppose. It was one amazing cake.

The other dessert we made was Lemon Meringue Pie. WOWee! We (my sister and I) used America’s Test Kitchen’s recipe. We used Meyer Lemons (see previous post) because they’re juicier than regular lemons, two gave us a half cup of juice. I made the crust by hand with butter, Crisco, vodka and water. It was perfect. The filling was so good it has converted me to actual fandom of meringue pies. The one problem with the pie was the weeping. We did exactly what the recipe said. Cornstarch paste added to the egg whites. Meringue placed on piping hot filling. It was a mile high and beautiful. But it still weeped. I’m thinking that weeping is a natural by-product of meringue pies. Have you ever made one? Did it weep?

Here’s the pie.

I should have taken a picture of it sliced. It didn’t last too long in this house. My Mr. loves lemon meringue.

Happy Happy Thanksgiving!

Today I’m thankful my sister has driven 500 miles to spend my birthday (yesterday) and Thanksgiving Day with me. I have a touch of the flu but that’s not gonna spoil my day. I managed to bake up some Pumpkin Bread. It’s delicious. I’m not sure I’ll get much else cooked but no matter. I’m with family. I am blessed.

My beautiful sister, Helen.

Canned tuna . . . should we or shouldn’t we?

ImageI do but not without a tinge of guilt. In fact, it’s difficult to eat any fish from the sea these days without wondering if it’s safe, if some dolphin or other rare splendid creature had to die as well. Was it fished out of a trash heap? I worry about the state of our oceans knowing how much we abuse them. And yet, I continue to purchase “dolphin safe” tuna and serve it several times a month. Life get’s complicated doesn’t it?

Well, setting guilt aside for the moment let’s talk about tuna salad. I love it. Especially traditional tuna salad, you know the one with mayo, mustard, celery, eggs, etc., served with potato chips. Yuh-uuum-me! Nothing tastier or more traditional in my homestead. Except that, as usual, I get bored with that. I want something different. Something non-traditional that kicks it up a notch or too. You name it, I’ve tried it with tuna: cilantro, red bell peppers, curry, raisins, scallions, lemon, lime, dill, wasabi, yogurt, sour cream, even horseradish. Some of these combo’s have worked, some have not. 

Today I tried again to mix it up with unusual ingredients. I happened to have a Jicama which is a root vegetable native to Mexico.

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 It’s like a radish or turnip. It’s mild, crisp, a touch of sweetness and wonderful in fresh salads.  I minced some up and threw that in the bowl along with Chinese mustard from the packets of left overs we had from ordering in the other night. That’s something else I feel guilty about throwing away. We always end up with way too much mustard, duck sauce and soy sauce and I always think, “surely there’s some way I can use these” invariably I have a giant stash that I throw away once a year. Now that is no longer necessary. The mustard is wonderful in tuna salad. It’s spicy and subtle (if that’s even possible) and the perfect touch for canned tuna. 

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I think I’ll actually buy a bottle of it to keep on hand. I’m thinking there are other uses for this stuff too.

The other new ingredient I used was a blend of spices I got from a company called Wildtree. I used to work for them as a sales rep and since I’m awful at sales that didn’t last too long. Their products are wonderful. They’re natural, healthful and preservative free. I happened to have some of their Dill Blend spice hanging around and I thought it would be a nice combination to add with the rest and voila! Tasty goodness was right under my nose. Click on the picture and it will take you to their website. 

Image I also threw in some of the traditional stuff: onions, celery, boiled eggs, mayo … you know the drill but the addition of these three ingredients made for a wonderful change and delicious lunch. Yuh-uuum-me!

Is it sacrilegious . . .

. . . to not serve Green Bean Casserole on Thanksgiving? It is the perennial side dish for the holidays. You don’t eat it any other time of the year and yet it’s kind of old and boring isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I love me some green bean casserole, but admit it, what we really love are the French Fried Onions, yum. Green beans don’t get that kind of love on their own. The rest of the year you eat them steamed or sautéed but never swimming in soup and onions.  Green bean casserole, cranberry sauce and sweet potato smothered in marshmallows (eewww… who invented that mess?) those are the dishes that are only served between November and December, I’m not wanting to have them now. I might like to re-invent the soupy mixture from scratch. The thought of buying a can of Cream of Mushroom soup  is gross. It’s so easy to make béchamel sauce and healthier too. Perhaps I’ll tackle that challenge, hmmm . . . perhaps. 

I’ve been searching my Cook’s Illustrated back issues, cookbooks and websites for new and interesting ideas to serve on Thanksgiving. Mine will be small and intimate with just three of us to feed. Since Thanksgiving is an “event” and deserves special attention directed to it. I’m excited about putting together a concerted effort and meal for the day. The question is … what?

The sweet potato has had a renaissance over the last few years. I eat them regularly in a lot of different ways: mashed, french fried, hashed, baked and chips. They’re so healthy and naturally sweet it’s like a tasty treat you don’t have to feel guilty about eating. I found a recipe on Pinterest for Hasselback Sweet Potatoes. Doesn’t this look amazing? Clicking on the picture will take you to the blogger with the recipe for this amazing treat!

Maybe not Thanksgiving but soon!

What I’m wanting to do is make something memorable. My family has never been one with long-standing traditions. Growing up Thanksgiving was always at Granny’s. Now that she’s gone, I’ve moved away and my sister is now single we have to start new traditions. I’m sad not to see my parents and it’s hard to make it feel like a holiday when all the things I’m used to are no where to be found. It’s a new day though and D and I must forge new family traditions. Thankfully, my sister will be here and we can share time down our mutually changed lives. We are blessed.

There are a few things that will happen. My birthday is November 21, the day before Thanksgiving. I want cake. Red Velvet Cake to be exact. I haven’t made one in years and think it will be the dessert of the weekend. Derek wants Lemon Meringue Pie so that will be on the menu too. Sweets are easy.

D loves onion rolls so I’ll make those. The recipe I use was found in an issue of Real Simple magazine a year or so ago. I’ve made them several times and they are light, airy, packed with flavor and simply . . . DELICIOUS! Click on the picture for the recipe.

So, we have the unhealthy choices nailed down. The big question is what’s for dinner? I’m thinking Gumbo sounds good. It’s hearty, earthy and packed with goodies and flavor. If not gumbo then perhaps Surf and Turf. I kind of think a Chicken Pot Pie with phyllo pastry crust sounds pretty amazing too. There are so many choices and ways to go. That’s what I love about cooking and food. A thousand variations and combinations to meet all culinary dreams. What will you serve?

A new look … anyone notice?

I changed the layout and design of my blog and wonder if anyone will notice. My “brand” isn’t exactly established so I’m pretty sure it won’t be too much of a shock. I like this more clean look anyway. If I get to the point where I have more than 10 followers I may set up my own site with an actual design sense.

I’m also thinking about Thanksgiving dinner. My sister is coming, possibly with her fella. I’m not keen to making a big turkey for four. I’m actually considering Lasagna. D want’s a lemon meringue pie I want red velvet cake. Maybe we’ll just have sweets. I want to do something very non-traditional. Perhaps Pinterest should dictate the meal. There are always so many pretty foods on display. In fact, I block most food pages because all that food drives me to distraction. I’m hungry enough on my own, looking at all those tasty dishes it simply too much.

I miss spring, flowers, Kansas City and friends. Here’s a picture to cheer.

Black-eyed Susan’s cheer me up!

When the husband is away …

… I eat soup. He doesn’t understand soup. To him it’s just broth with too many vegetables and not enough meat. For me, soup is warmth, comfort and a healthy way to eat. Oh sure, there are unhealthy soups but I tend to make broth-based soups not creamy ones. Yesterday it was raining and cold so I broke out the stock left over from the baked chicken from last week. It took all day to make, which wasn’t exactly necessary but I wasn’t in a hurry and it seemed the prudent way to do it. The end result was a spicy Chicken Chili. Mmmm.

Spicy Chicken Chili

I’m excited about this particular batch of soup because I grew the tomatoes that went into it and I finally figured out how to use dried beans instead of canned. In fact, all of the ingredients were fresh in this and it is so very good!  The other tasty treat I made yesterday was a cheese crisp. I have been searching for a cracker recipe and finally found a cheesy recipe that sounded good. I used whole wheat flour and two different cheeses for a salty and crunchy cracker. Yum!

Here’s how I did the soup. First the ingredients:

2 tbs olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 red bell pepper (roasted and diced)
2 carrots, chopped
14 oz diced tomatoes
2 medium jalapeño peppers, minced
2 large stalks of celery, chopped
6 cups chicken stock
1 cup dried white beans
1 bone in chicken breast
4-5 bone in chicken drumsticks (legs)
2 tbsp taco seasoning
2 tsp chipotle chili pepper
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp paprika
salt and pepper to taste

First things first: get your beans soaking. (see instructions above or read package instructions) OR use canned, there’s no rule here. Except remember the best rule of cooking: FRESH IS BEST!

1. In a large dutch oven (or soup pot) heat olive oil on medium.
2. Add chopped onions, carrots, celery, jalapeño peppers and cook until translucent.(apps. 10 min)
3. Add minced garlic and roasted bell pepper, cook until fragrant (appx. 30 seconds)
4. Add tomatoes, spices (cumin, chili, taco seasoning, paprika) and chicken stock stirring until spices are well mixed.
5. Add chicken pieces, cover and cook for 30-40 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside to cool.
6. By now your beans should be par-cooked so throw them into the soup and cover. Let cook at a rolling simmer for another hour. Taste to see if you need salt and the “doneness” of the beans.
7. Once the beans are done, shred your chicken and add back to the soup and let simmer on low for another 30 minutes to hour.
8. Taste. Season accordingly.

Serve with Avocado, fresh cilantro and a dollop of sour cream.

Kicking it old school …

. . . cooking up a Pot Roast. It’s the American go-to meal for Sunday dinner. Right? Growing up it seemed as if we had pot roast every weekend after church. I hated going to church and therefore dreaded going home to a pot roast afterwards. Association can ruin even the tastiest of treats, huh?

Well, I grew up and stopped eating so much pot roast and as I started to learn to cook for myself, became eager to learn how to cook everything. This was before the Food Network and Internet and really before food snobbery was even heard of. My best resources then were Mama and “The Joy of Cooking”.

Essential for every cooks library.

Mama got me started and showed me how to do it all. What she didn’t know “Joy” did. I suppose I would be remiss if I excluded Martha from the mix but she’s become more infamous than anything. I’m not to proud to say she taught me a few great things; Pie crust, red velvet cake and corn-shrimp chowder. She even inspired me to make my own headboard. But that’s another story, today we’re talking pot roast.

Who inspires me today? America’s Test Kitchen, Ruth Reichl and Anthony Bourdain. Chiefly all the cooks at American’s Test Kitchen. I have subscribed to their magazine “Cook’s Illustrated” for over ten years (thanks to my Mama). I have two of their latest cookbooks and when I can find it on TV I’m glued to their show. They know how to make everything. If they don’t they keep trying until they get an end product they guarantee will be good. I just bought their latest “The Science of Good Cooking”. I’m going to work my way through all of their recipes. I love their magazine because it’s not about selling you stuff you don’t need. There are no advertisements (praise Jesus)! It’s loaded with tips from real cooks (meaning those of us at home who love to do it). They test products and tell you which of them are great, good and to be avoided.

So today I cooked a roast following their recipe for slow cooked-to-tender roast beef. It was in the oven for three plus hours at 225 degrees. It turned out rare and so very tasty. My D nearly ate the whole thing. I should have taken a picture but I forgot and honestly … roast beef is not pretty. I suppose I should have staged it to look pretty but I was so hungry and distracted I just couldn’t get it done. So . . . here is a pretty picture from my honeymoon instead . . .

Paris . . . where every meal was amazing!