Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christmas Ornaments

Ava had her buddy Meiling over recently and we made the first Christmas cookies of the year. While we had the cookie cutters out, we made these simple ornaments.

First, mix equal parts applesauce and cinnamon. It forms a stiff dough.

Press it flat between two pieces of waxed paper. We used a rolling pin so that we would get a smoother surface. I also found that some of the thinner areas of dough didn't make a very durable ornament. Aim for about 1/2 inch thickness.

Take off the top layer of waxed paper and cut out any shape you like. When you are finished, use a toothpick to make a hole at the top.

These need to dry for anywhere from one to four days, depending on thickness. After that, use an ornament hook, string or ribbon through the hole to hang it on the tree. It smells great!

I think play dates should always include kitchen work, don't you?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

How to Peel a Chestnut Easily

I found the chestnuts peeled most easily if softened a bit in the microwave first. In order to do this, first you must pierce each chestnut with a sharp knife. This allows the building pressure to escape without inter-appliance explosions startling you while you putter in the kitchen, causing you to drop bread puddings and scaring the dog out of her poor wits. This is a very important step. Please don't skimp on the hole-punching. Don't ask me how I know.

Microwave a small quantity on high for 2 minutes. It's best to do only groups of no more than 6-8. If you do greater quantities than that, the final chestnuts will likely cool before you get to them and the peeling won't be quite so easy.

A paring knife or small serrated knife will generally cut through the outer shell lickety split at this point. I found that sometimes the piercing in the shell opened a bit in the microwave, making it easy to use the knife to simply crack them open the rest of the way. By the last of the chestnuts I got to be quite expert at opening them and popping the meat out of the shell.

Perhaps more interestingly, I was looking online for some stock photos of a bunch of chestnuts, since I took pictures of the process, but not of the beautiful, untouched produce. What I found were several pictures of unharvested chestnuts in their natural environment. I had no idea that they grew in thistle-y pods, but probably my wise readers did. How fascinating. And how gorgeous.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

I Know I'm a Grown-Up Because...

...I was the one who made the holiday happen.

...I did it with an oven that failed to preheat on, of all days, Thanksgiving morning.

...I tried three new recipes simultaneously and did not spontaneously combust.

...the dishes all got done on time.

...I allowed the children to help and seldom raised my voice, even when Brooks let the egg whites that he was separating slop into the garbage, rather than save them for future use.

...I fell into bed exhausted that night and got up early the next day to start making Christmas happen.

...I love my little clan so much that it makes me want to do hard things for their pleasure.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Brining the Bird and Other Minor Details

OK. Let's go. Let's do as much as we can in advance so that we can enjoy the day ahead. First, let's brine the hell out of that bird. I've already posted The Pioneer Woman's favorite turkey brine recipe here, so I think what I'm doing in this post is just documenting my timing of the meal prep and deciding how I'll alter things for my purposes.

Now, P-Dub says her recipe is for a 20 pound bird. My turkey is not quite twelve. What I used was the peel of two oranges, 2 c. of apple cider, 5 qts. of water, 1 c. of salt, 1 1/4 c. brown sugar, 4 bay leaves, a fistful of rosemary, 2 T peppercorns and 3 cloves of garlic.

I boiled the brine on Monday, let it cool in the fridge until Tuesday, when I slapped the whole thing, turkey and all, in to a 2 gallon ziplock bag. Just to be on the safe side, I put the bag into the roasting pan. This made it easier to transport to my extra fridge, to be sure, but really, I just didn't trust the edges and corners of the bag to hold up. Lucky for me, because there are juices gathering in that roasting pan from the leaking bag! Can nothing work as it should?

By my calculation, I need to get the bird in the oven by 8:00 AM in order to eat around noon. Today I've assembled the dressing, combining bread, chicken, onion, celery and chestnuts, then slopping it up with a combination of egg and chicken broth.

I've put together all the elements of the dessert: Pumpkin Bread Pudding. I made the pumpkin bread, diced it up, made a pumpkin custard and poured it over all, made a caramel apple sauce for over the top and set it to keep in the fridge. (I taste-tested every one of those elements and cannot wait to try it all together!)

Finally, Sophia set the table and readied it for the big day.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thanksgiving Plans and Ambition

SIL Sarah has on her Christmas List a cookbook by Ree Drummond, known in the blogosphere as The Pioneer Woman. I checked out her website after seeing the book in the store and now I'm totally mad that people have kept her a secret from me all these years. She is my soul mate. She grew up affluent middle class on the 7th green of a golf course. She fled to LA for college and had made up her mind that her future would consist of city dwelling, little black dresses and Thai food. Instead, she met and fell in love with a rugged cowboy with a ranch an hour and a half from her hometown. She now lives on this isolated ranch, where they homeschool their four children, and manages this fantastic blog, now website. OK, her background isn't anything like mine, but I like her writing style and her cooking style is not too far from mine... very meat and potatoes.

Expect a few Pioneer Woman-related posts coming up. Just this week, Bobby Flay of The Food Network had a "throwdown" with her in which they each prepared an entire Thanksgiving dinner, which was judged and one of them was declared the winner.

This weekend, I will prepare her Favorite Turkey Brine as I find myself preparing an entire Thanksgiving dinner on my own. It turns out I don't have any family dinners until Saturday, leaving Thursday wide open and available for culinary experimentation. I'll have Dad over and maybe another odd family member (insinuation intended) or two.

But maybe I can get someone else to bring the mashed potatoes. I just don't like that job.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Kimchi - Sort Of

What follows is a not-so-successful recipe attempt. But first, a story.

My father-in-law likes radishes.

My (brace yourself) husband's brother's wife's friend's mother is a Korean-American who grows giant Asian radishes for the purpose of making a favorite Korean dish, kimchi. Knowing FIL's love for adorable little American radishes, Sarah asked for a big ol' honkin' expat radish from the Kim family to give the man as a joke. The radish was shared, the joke was played and then the radish was headed to the trash can.

The trash can! Can you believe it? I rescued the poor dear and vowed to find a use for him. Two Facebook friends pointed me to a recipe for kimchi, found here . I decided to go for it. Throwing away perfectly good produce because the joke is over is a bad idea.

Trying to follow the recipe, I got as far as this and then I started having problems. I had the will and the drive, but not the urban Asian Food supermarket required. I call this picture Still Life with Radish and a Boatload of Garlic.

The first three ingredients were attainable enough, but then shrimp packed in a Korean brine? That's OK, we'll leave it out. Brooks is allergic anyway. And then there was Korean powdered red pepper? That's just not at my small town supermarket. There was some other spicy looking thing in the Asian aisle of my market, and I bought that, but by this time I just knew whatever I was making was never going to look like any kimchi that would be recognized by Eaters of Kimchi.

My personal health standards also did not allow me to leave it on the counter for 3-4 days before eating. I covered it and put it in the fridge.

I have do say, it was interesting to get some of those strong flavors in my mouth. Mike thought so, too. It was very garlicky and very spicy. I've seen other directions which instruct to cut up the radish thin like cole slaw. I think that would have improved the texture for me. But none of us really feel like we should fix it again, given another seven pound radish falling into our laps.

All week, as I've been working on this post, I've kind of wondered what I thought the point was, if I couldn't really recommend it and hadn't made it precisely. But I still think processes like these are gratifying for the purpose of trying something new, trying something from a culture not easily found in my area, making substitutions where you must and seeing if you can turn out something new and great. I really liked the Process, even if we didn't like the Product and I wanted you to know about it.

Have you had any similar experiences?

Monday, November 8, 2010

I Have a Serious Problem....

...and his name is Spicy Tuna Roll. A few years ago, a new supermarket was raised in our little town. It is large, slick and seems to offer fancier stuff than the other markets in town. The first time I visited the new store I felt like I was in Disneyland. Here is the best part of what they offer: a variety of sushi, made fresh every morning, available in the cold case.

So well-known is my obsession with sushi, my best birthday gift this year (from my smart sister-in-law) was this in a service for four:

Look how saucey my boyfriend Wasabi looks in his soy sauce jaccuzi:

Also this:

...which prettily and helpfully looks like this on the inside:

And so I think, "Yes. I really must learn to make my own." And so my eye lands on things in the Asian food aisle in the supermarket that I feel I must have. Hey! seaweed wraps! I'll just snatch up some of those for when I make sushi. And sesame seeds! I'll need some of those. And wasabi? Well, that really just needs to be a household staple, I think.

And there they sit. Because, really, it now comes down to the raw fish. And this scares me. Ordinarily, I think of anything made in the home as highly superior to anything found in the supermarket, but in this case....I feel unqualified, I suppose, for handling and serving raw fish. It's not the squeamish factor, it's really just cluelessness on how this could possibly be OK. It's probably like the job of getting the candle wax out of the Christmas tablecloth, which took me until summer to face, so sure was I that it would take forever and still not be right. It turned out to take five minutes and looked beautiful in the end. Anyway, it seems like a big, hopeless job like candle wax or barf carpet, and it makes me not even look at the instructions in the "cook" book seriously. I'd rather have a buddy talk me through it reassuringly. Have any of you ever made your own sushi?