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Archive for November, 2007

Holiday Gift Guide

All the holiday gift guides have me salivating over various things in my life I have decided I just HAVE to have. I don’t think you need to hear about my new obsession with jumbo hot rollers (how old school of me!) and how I may die if I don’t procure myself a set, so I will stick with foodie stuff. A lot of the items below I own, some of it I wish I did, all of it makes good gifts for the foodie/chef/impossible person to buy for in your life.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain: Yes, it is a few years old, but it is still one of the best books I have ever read on cooking, restaurants and on life. “Tony Bourdain is a huge asshole”, my beloved friend B once pointed out to me. “You know I love assholes”, was my response. A fantastic read, even for those non-foodies in your life.

Jessie Steele French Hostess Apron: Because everyone should feel a bit naughty in the kitchen. I have one covered in cherries; enough said.

How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman: He is self taught and smart. His recipes are easy to follow, even for a novice. Everything under the sun is in here, from bread and muffins, to pheasant. He is, in one word, awesome.

Digital meat thermometer: When you care enough to say, “I don’t want you to get dysentery from undercooked chicken”.

Immersion Blender: I could not love mine more. Making soups has never been easier. I am not one for hundreds of gadgets, but this is worth every inch of space it takes up.

Penzey’s Spices: These gift sets are a great idea. The 8-piece herb set and the Indian curry set speak to me, but there is something there for everyone.

Henckle’s 6″ Chef Knife, Wide Blade: I heart this knife more than my boobs. Almost. It fits in your hand perfectly, doesn’t weigh too much, and has a clean, sharp cut. This and a bread knife are the only knives I use in the kitchen.

Le Creuset 5 1/2 Quart Dutch Oven: This is classic and I covet it so. It is the one thing I think is truly missing from my kitchen, but sadly, I do not want to harvest my eggs to buy it. I bet your Mom would love it, though!

KitchenAid Stand Mixer: Everyone who gets married gets one of these. I am considering taking in an illegal and helping them get their greencard for the sole purpose of obtaining this. Getting married is such a freaking racket. I deserve nice things, too!

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I was discussing with some co-workers last Wednesday how absolutely insane people get over their Thanksgiving traditions. For some people, it is not Thanksgiving without the creamed onions, while others must have the whole berry cranberry sauce or the death of all those Native Americans was for naught. People lose all perspective and insist on eating total crap they would never eat on a normal day just because tradition dictates. Some if it is not even that good. Green bean casserole, I am looking at you. A can of soup mixed with soggy beans? Really?

Traditions are traditions and I hold mine near and dear, but if we are going to gain some weight during the holidays, it should be for good food. (Speaking of gaining weight, I gained 4 freaking pounds over the course of last week. 4 pounds! It was worth it, but the treadmill and I are the best of friends this week. Yowza.) I merely advocate coming up with some better traditions of your own. Truly examine how much you love those store bought rolls or that nasty olive platter with the canned olives.

As I have stated before, I don’t think sweet potatoes should be relegated to a purely Thanksgiving dish. These did make an appearance on my Thanksgiving table, but I hope to make them again before the winter is through. I mean, they call for bourbon; how can you go wrong? They actually taste great, could be lightened up by using milk, and would perfectly compliment a pork dish. I swear you won’t miss the marshmallows.

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Bourbon Sweet Potatoes

Adapted from Bon Appetit

4 lbs red skinned sweet potatoes

1/2 cup whipping cream

6 tablespoons (3/4 cup) butter

1/4 cup pure maple syrup

2 1/2 Tablespoons bourbon

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground allspice

3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup walnut and pecan mixture, toasted, chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F. Roast potatoes on rimmed baking sheet until tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Cool slightly. Scoop flesh into large bowl; discard skins. Mash hot potatoes until coarse puree forms.

Heat cream and butter in heavy small saucepan over low heat until butter melts, stirring occasionally. Gradually stir hot cream mixture into hot potatoes. Stir in syrup, bourbon, and all spices. Season with salt and pepper.

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This One is Almost Serious

There are some things that are so American that a mere mortal dare not mess with them. Baseball, apple pie and religious sanctimony come immediately to mind, but there are other traditions and values that are woven deeply into our fiber. Commercialism, hedonism and jingoism are almost as American as our beloved ballgames. Sure there are some great things about this country, but it isn’t really my style to accentuate the positive. I am American god dammit, and I will bitch atop my perch of privilege as much as I damn well please.

I cannot help but think of these American values and virtues as I plow through the leftovers from last Thursday. Leave it to a country with such a staggering gap between that haves and the have nots to celebrate belt tightening indulgence. It begs mention that only this time of year do we collect canned goods and volunteer at soup kitchens. The other eleven months of the year we forget those who need it the most, a sin I myself commit.

This year I contributed two boxes of stuffing to the office food drive, but still felt guilty about this hollow act. I know it is not enough. I do my best to eat all my leftovers, to pawn them on Annie Birdie, friends, and co-workers. I wrack my brain in an effort to come up with ways to use opened packages of herbs or half boxes of vegetables. Despite this effort, more containers of leftovers than I care to admit get pitched into the bin, uneaten. I cringe momentarily, but am quickly thankful for the space that has been freed in the fridge.

This guilt and acknowledgment that I could do more has lead me to make one little plea to my faithful (4) readers. Ok, two pleas.; I am greedy that way. First, and this is much easier, please do your best to eat the last of those mashed potatoes and green bean casserole remnants in the fridge; there are people out there who would happily eat them. There is no need for such waste. Second, I have made a commitment to myself to continue donating time, money and food to those who need it most after the holidays pass. I can feel warm and fuzzy through charity in my bathing suit just as easily as I can in my Santa Hat. Well, not my Santa hat–I would not be caught dead in one of those–but maybe my Christmas themed thong? Yes, a bejeweled reindeer on my crotch is more like it.

I hesitated to write about this, for I am much more comfortable poking fun at myself–or even better, at others–and I often feel very silly about how much joy this little corner of the internet brings me. There are much bigger things in the world than a well educated white girl snarking about gnocchi. I hate sanctimonious assholes and people telling me how to live my life. I will mention this just once and hope you think about it, even for a minute.

Tomorrow, back to complaining about how oh.so.hard it is to be me. And, God is it hard.

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The tryptophan coma has worn off and the leftovers are almost gone; at appears everyone near and dear to me has made it through this holiday with nary a familial meltdown or kitchen disaster. The next month contains countless birthdays, holiday parties, baby showers, and assorted chaos. I don’t know if I am ready, but life continues.  I have important thing to tend to right now, like leftovers.

I spent a good deal of time staring into the fridge this weekend and pondering what to do with all the turkey Aunt LifeSaver had send home with me. I landed on throwing together a simple, homey turkey soup. It is the perfect way to detox after such an indulgent weekend and has the added bonus of using a bunch of leftover odds and ends in the fridge. Of course, detoxing from all the food is sort of fruitless when I chose to wash it down with an obscene amount of wine. When the two of us decided to crack open the third bottle Saturday night, I finally knew what it is like to reach the point of no return.

This is an improvised recipe, compromised with what I had on hand and supplemented with a few things from the store. Other vegetables–lima beans and green beans come to mind immediately–would be great, and leftover chicken would obviously go just as well. Fresh or dried herbs work great and the pasta if optional and can vary; I used orzo, but any type of pasta, barley, or rice would be great. Soup is the simplest thing to make in the word and the only thing that limits is the imagination. The only thing to keep in mind is making sure the vegetables are chopped small enough to fit on a soup spoon.  I am often asked how I “know” things will work, and honestly, it is trail and error. If you don’t like how the soup comes out one time, just keep on trying. You will find something that works. Though I hate failure, you cannot fear it in the kitchen if you want to learn anything. It just takes some time to figure out what will work.  If it yield soup like this, the time is worth it.

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Turkey Orzo Soup

2 tsp olive oil

1 small onion (1/2 large), chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

2 carrots, diced (I used a large handful of baby carrots)

3 celery stalks, diced

8 cups low sodium chicken broth (I used some stock which has a richer flavor)

1 1/2 cups turkey, diced

1 cup frozen peas

4 sprigs thyme (the leaves will fall off as the soup cooks)

1 bay leaf

1 tsp herbs de provence

1 cup orzo, dried

Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat oil and saute onion and garlic for 3 minutes. Add carrot and saute for an additional two minutes, then add celery and saute for about two minutes. Add chicken broth, peas, diced turkey, bay leaf, herbs de provence and thyme. Let it heat for about 10 minutes and then add orzo. Cook for an additional 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper and fish out bay leaf and sprigs of thyme. Serves about 6-8.

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Purge

There was a 15 minute period last night where I genuinely contemplated purging. I was that full.

AuntLifeSaver made a great meal and there was plenty of wine to go around.  The turkey was moist and flavorful, and my favorite, the cranberry sauce, was  perfection.

Three days of cleansing, working out, and relaxing lie ahead.  Next week, I am back in the swing of things, with plenty of  recipes. Enjoy this lazy weekend.

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Thankful

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I have much to be thankful for, including loving and supportive friends, a caring albeit dysfunctional family, an apartment I love, a phenomenal shoe collection and a stomach of steel.

May I remember this always, especially as I stare down into the bottom of my fourth empty wine glass tomorrow.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

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Killing Me Softly

Basically. NaPoBloMo has me a woman on the brink. I am finding that even more than usual, I am thinking of food, trying to come up with things to post and say. It is a huge statement to say I have never thought of food more; this is coming from a woman who used to be able to eat a whole pint of ice cream and then wash it down with some french fries. Those days are far behind me, but I do feel a bit of uneasiness with how much I have been thinking of recipes, combing through epicurious and visiting a billion food blogs. Maybe one day I will get into the weight saga of the old Lemmonex, but this is something I cannot think about with the orgy that is Thanksgiving two days away. Plus, dude, who wants to hear another girl bitch about her weight on the internet? I may have to take a few days off after Thanksgiving from this and get a big fat F in NaPoBloMo–I need to detox.

Continuing on my path of self destruction, I made a strata this weekend to celebrate Irish Lebowski’s b’day. She came over for brunch, we kvetched, fun was had by all. The strata was decadent and over the top; kind of how I like most things. The recipe below was actually tweaked a lot to cut a decent amount of fat, but make no mistake about it; this is not good for you. A small amount will not kill you, though, and we cut the richness with a salad. As we ate this creamy, eggy dish, we both observed that fruit salad may have been better. This would be the perfect kind of dish to serve over the holidays. It can easily sit in the fridge–as the flavors intensify–and be popped in the oven in the morning.

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(For once, it is not me with the photo problems…damn you WordPress)

Goat Cheese, Artichoke and Smoked Ham Strata

Adapted from Bon Apetit

2 cups low fat milk

1/4 cup olive oil

8 cups 1-inch cubes sourdough bread or soft top white bread

1 1/2 cups fat free half and half

5 large eggs

1 large chopped garlic clove

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

3/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

6 ounces soft fresh goat cheese (such as Montrachet), crumbled

2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

1 1/2 teaspoons herbes de Provence

12 ounces smoked ham, chopped

2 6 1/2-ounce jars marinated artichoke hearts, drained, halved lengthwise

1 cup (packed) grated Fontina cheese

1 1/2 cups (packed) grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish. Whisk milk and oil in large bowl. Stir in bread. Let stand until liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes.

Whisk cream and next 5 ingredients in another large bowl to blend. Add goat cheese. Mix herbs in small bowl to blend.

Place half of bread mixture in prepared dish. Top with half of ham, artichoke hearts, herbs, and cheeses. Pour half of cream mixture over. Repeat layering with remaining bread, ham, artichoke hearts, herbs, cheeses, and cream mixture. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill.)

Bake uncovered until firm in center and brown around edges, about 1 hour.

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