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Archive for November, 2007

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Thanksgiving’s early arrival this year has thrown me off my game. I planned to post some Thanksgivingy ideas earlier, but I’ve been very busy, and work is hectic and blah, blah, blah. So, without further ado, here are some random thoughts that you can feel free to ignore.

  • Turkey is one of those things I never really make at home except for Thanksgiving; I am always super excited for the bird every year. I do feel like people fall in to staunch pro and anti turkey camps, so if you are one of those weirdos…I mean people…who doesn’t like turkey, a roasted chicken would work well. If it is a smaller party, I am really partial to cornish game hens; they are very hard to mess up. Also, there is no rule that poultry has to be served on Thanksgiving; lamb would be great as would a prime rib. I just cannot really advocate ham; to me, that is purely Christmas.
  • In the non meat world, I have been eying a Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Lasagna for a while that looks stellar and would be fantastic even if a vegetarian is not attending your feast.
  • Slashfood and Yum Sugar have been updating constantly this week with oodles of Thanksgiving ideas. If you are stumped, it will get your creative juices flowing.
  • Though I love the glut that is Thanksgiving, I think it is best to focus on making three or four really great sides instead of having a bunch of sub par stuff on the table. Aunt LifeSaver asked folks if there was something they needed to have on the table and then planned around that. I, for one, cannot live without cranberry sauce, being the New England girl that I am. But other than that? I can get most stuff any other time. It is not necessary to have three forms of potatoes on the table.

So, there are my thoughts. Have any of your own?

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Tired of Using Technology

It is now very obvious my plans for a new camera were back burnered, as the quality of the photos here are still horrible. It’s on the agenda after the holidays; I just cannot seem to pull the trigger.

To add insult to injury, the damn thing is now eating my photos.  The pictures of my french toast this morning are no where to be found. 

So, I will go off and mope, but not without saying this: Bailey’s in french toast batter is never a bad idea. 

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Burden of Being Me

I have been persistently dogged my entire life by an inability to go more than a day without completely making an ass of myself. By either shooting off at the mouth at an inopportune time or doing something so incredibly, breathtakingly clumsy that all anyone can do is shake their head, I spend a lot of time in my life doing damage control of some sort. I make amends through jokes at my own expense, replacing broken items that were victims of my lack of coordination, and sincere apologies.

I got together with some friends, M1 and M2, Wednesday night for the premiere of “Project Runway”. It has been criminally long since I had seen either one of them and we gossiped at a rapid fire pace for more than an hour before the show started. In the three and a half hours I spent with them I:

-spilled two Belinis, one of which sloshed into a full bowl of pita chips

-broke one champagne flute (separate from the Belini disasters)

-dropped a shiny, quarter-sized dollop of dip on M1’s rug

It was as if my subconscious was making up for not seeing them in four months; it was a cram session on my klutziness. Wrapped up in my embarrassment was the comfort I felt when it was laughed off, as if this is just an amusing reality of hanging out with me. They see it as part of my charm, and as I get older, I am beginning to accept this as well. Things may be broken, inappropriate verbal bombs are dropped, but it is never, ever dull.

I also find that when I come bearing food, it helps engender good feelings and this party was no different. I came toting a red pepper and goat cheese dip; an evening with Tim Gunn deserves more than onion dip from a can. This recipe was inspired by carrie m, who has asked for a chevre dish. Chevre is just a fancy name for goat cheese and frankly, I probably could have come up with something more inspired, but I needed something to bring to this get together. As I have said before, I recommend roasting your own peppers; they just taste better and there is the added bonus of it being more cost effective. Everyone really liked this simple dip; it is benign without any pungent flavors, so there isn’t much to complain about. I would in no way call this a failure–it tasted very good–but it just didn’t have the wow factor. Still, for a party, I recommend it.

red-pepper-dip.jpg

Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Dip

Adapted from RecipeZaar

2 red bell peppers, seeded roasted and peeled

1 heads roasted garlic, pulp squeezed and skin removed

4 ounces soft fresh herbed goat cheese

3 Tablespoons virgin olive oil

1 1/2 Tablespoons dried oregano

1 Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

½ Tablespoon dried thyme

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Place the roasted red peppers, garlic and cheese in a food processor or blender and pulse until smooth. Add olive oil, thyme, oregano, rosemary, salt and pepper and pulse until well blended. Place in a serving bowl; stir to make sure that the dip is homogenized. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

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Thursday Bonus Round

Things I find personally disturbing:

1. Cheese in a can

2. Canned Olives

3. Carrots in a can

Things I don’t mind as much:

1. Box of Mac ‘n’ Cheese

2. Bento Box

3. Dick in a box

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These Please Me

Some random thoughts on 3 things that make life easier in the kitchen:

12″ Everyday Pan by Calphalon: My most favorite pan in the kitchen. It can be moved from stovetop to oven, perfect for stirfying/braising/sauteing, and super easy to clean. I cook almost every day and this pan, a sauce pan, and my soup pot are the three items I pull out of the cupboard on a regular basis. I am a true believer in investing in 3 or 4 really high quality pans, and getting rid of all the stupid ones that don’t really work. Great deals can always be found on amazon.com for high end lines like All-Clad and Calphalon. I think those silly 11 piece sets that every bride registers for are a total rip-off; half the pans end up unused and cluttering the house. Register for 5 great pans and have the family buy you more important things on your special day, like a wine cellar.

Microplane: My friend and frequent commenter B always jokes about my love affair with my microplane. I just cannot help it; it is perfect for zesting lemons and limes, grating nutmeg and cinnamon and finely shaving chocolate on a desert. Using this tool makes you feel like a real in-home chef.

Tongs: Simple, right? I am always surprised when people don’t have a pair of these in their house. (We have two sets in Casa Lemmonex Birdie). Use these and you will never drop your meal on the floor again. (Something especially helpful for a klutzy cook like me.) Great for tossing in the pan and twirling pasta in a sauce. I love giving these as a house warming gift.

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Cindarella will be in Peru for Thanksgiving, so she did what any other rational and reasonable person would do: planned a full, over the top Thanksgiving dinner for her friends. The two best cooks in my life are Cindarella and Aunt LifeSaver, so I consider myself extremely lucky that I get to have a meal prepared by each this year. The only thing better than Thanksgiving is two Thanksgivings.

Just like last year, I was put on gravy duty. Cindarella considers the gravy to be her white whale, so for the second year in a row, I was summoned by her to the kitchen and handed a whisk. While stirring away, I was quickly reminded of the infamous gravy incident of last year. I had consumed an entire pitcher of sangria as I helped Cindarella out in the kitchen; it is a mortal weakness of mine and I just cannot pass up sangria. As I prepared a huge vessel of gravy in a bubbling roasting pan, I dropped my whisk into the molten liquid. Without a seconds thought, I plunged my hand into the pan and grabbed my whisk. Cindarella stood by, mouth agape, and suggested that maybe I should lay off the sauce while cooking. I obliged, but I don’t think that was what our forefathers would have wanted.

(Another memory from last Thanksgiving that makes me feel warm and tingly inside: an understandably angry ex-Vet hitting on me, raging about the war in Iraq and insistently showing me his chest, which was adorned with the two scariest clown tattoos I have ever seen. This was not the Thanksgiving of my youth.)

Luckily, I had more to contribute to this years (pre) Thanksgiving than drunken shenanigans and gravy. I have been promising a pumpkin cheesecake recipe to my Aunt Carol and this was the perfect time to take one for a test drive. This is an adapted version of one circulating on the interwebs claiming to be “the Cheesecake Factory Pumpkin Cheesecake”. I changed the crust recipe, amped up the spices and added ginger, and topped with pecans. I must admit; it was incredible. The steps may seem daunting, but it is not complicated to put this together. The results will make you the most loved member of your Thanksgiving party. Well, I may have loved Cindarella’s bourbon sweet potatoes a little more, but still, make this. I implore you.

pumpkin-cheesecake.jpg

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Adapted from RecipeZaar

Crust:

1 1/2 cups cinnamon graham crackers, made into crumbs

5 1/2 Tbsp. butter, melted

2 tsp. sugar

Filling:

3- 8oz.pkgs. cream cheese, softened

1 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup canned pumpkin

3 eggs

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

¼ tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1/4 tsp. allspice

½ cup halved pecans

Homemade whipped cream

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Make the crust by combining the graham cracker crumbs with the melted butter and 1 T sugar in a medium bowl.
  3. Stir well enough to coat all of the crumbs with the butter, but not so much as to turn the mixture into paste. Keep it crumbly.
  4. Put foil partway up the outside part of an 8-inch springform pan.
  5. Press the crumbs onto the bottom and about two-thirds of the way up the sides of the springform pan. You don’t want the crust to form all of the way up the back of each slice of cheesecake.
  6. Bake the crust for 5 minutes, then set aside until you are ready to fill it.
  7. Boil a kettle of water.
  8. In a large mixing bowl combine the cream cheese, 1 C sugar, and vanilla.
  9. Mix with an electric mixer until smooth.
  10. Add the pumpkin, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice and continue beating until smooth and creamy.
  11. Pour the filling into the pan.
  12. Put boiled water in a pan and put on the rack below the cake pan. (this prevents excessive cracking of the cake, though I usually get one crack.)
  13. Bake for 60-70 minutes. The top will turn a bit darker at this point.
  14. Remove from the oven and allow the cheesecake to cool.
  15. After it has cooled about 20 minutes, press pecan halves around the edges.
  16. When the cheesecake has come to room temperature, put it into the refrigerator. (this took about 2.5 hours)
  17. When the cheesecake has chilled, remove the pan sides and cut the cake into 8 equal pieces.
  18. Serve with a generous portion of whipped cream on top.

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Now, I have always been a fan of garlic, feeling a strong allure to this pungent bulb that cannot be suppressed. I always throw an extra clove in to every recipe and would slather every piece of bread in it if I were to never have to kiss a boy again. It is one of the easiest tastes to go over board on–as I did this weekend–so even the seasoned chef needs to watch out. It has a strident bite.

Reader Michelle asks: I have a question regarding kitchen tools: I’ve heard a few people mention that they prefer to chop garlic as opposed to using a grinder b/c the grinder adds a different, less appetizing flavor (according to them). Have you found this to be true?

I agree–chopping garlic is the best way to go. You know all that stringy stuff that remains in the press after you are done? That’s some good stuff and it carries a lot of flavor. Also, chopped garlic is less likely to burn while being sauteed than the pulpy mess that emerges from a grinder. If you need garlic to be superfine, for say, a guacamole, I recommend using a microplane.

One last word on garlic: Please don’t use it from the jar. I know it is easier and convenient and I guess in a pinch it is fine, but it does effect the flavor of a dish. Also, it smells like formaldehyde. Do you really want something that smells like death in a meal you spent hours cooking when it takes about 20 seconds to chop a clove of garlic?

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