November 29, 2011

Bar Cookie Discrimination - And Soup With Salad

I'll confess that I'm not a person who gets excited about the holidays.

You know the type of person I'm talking about? I'm picturing an over-the-top co-worker who decorates their oatmeal cubicle for every holiday and also dresses for the holiday right down to a a sparkly sweater, holiday-themed turtleneck,  matching socks, and -especially for Christmas- a Santa hat with jingle bell.

I'm equally not celebrating the fact that one of the local radio stations decided to begin broadcasting Christmas music 24/7 - in early November. Please! Halloween had just ended.

Christmas cookies, on the other hand, I can relate to. So on a recent business trip I picked up a copy of  The Christmas Cookie Club by Ann Pearlman. But, uh, I have two small cookie-related issues with the book:  

  1. I like bar cookies. In fact, I like bar cookies so much that I started a tumblr feed for them. 
  2. Individual cookies are too much work - too much standing, too much stirring. I know this because I have made large quantities of them on my own many years ago, and have refused to make them ever since then.  

So perhaps you can understand why I was rather appalled that the hard-working bar cookie was written off immediately in the opening salvo of The Christmas Cookie Club: "No bars. They stick to each other and crumble."

No bar cookies allowed? Bah humbug.

Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the book. It was a light-hearted, gossipy, chick-flicky romp through an annual Christmas cookie club event, accompanied by cookie recipes and ingredient history lessons. I don't really know what the history lessons were doing in the book, but they were informative and brief.

The characters are stereotypical, but lovable: there's Marnie, the party hostess (aka, head cookie bitch,) who's widowed with children and learning to love again; then there's Vera, the former cocaine addicted stripper who turned her life around, and there's Sissy representing for all women of color replete with sassy attitude and talented (yet troubled) children.

The premise of the novel is equally simple: there this Christmas Cookie party every year. There are rules you must follow. If you don't follow the rules, you're out of the club. One of the club rules is that you have to share the story of why you chose these cookies this year - which becomes a metaphor for everything that's happened to you in the last twelve months because apparently the characters rarely see each other except on this mandatory first Monday in December. Still, as a Christmas Cookie Club participant, you get some eating, some drinking, some dancing, and twelve dozen cookies out of the event, plus all of the recipes.

In fact, there are more than twenty recipes in the book - and not only for cookies. Being a bar cookie snob, I snubbed the hand-rolled, fastidiously decorated cookies throughout the book. I am not going to take the time to hand-write fortunes, then hand-turn the little fortune cookies even though I have all of the time in the world to do so. And truth be told, not all of the cookies are that fussy.

I went for the Roasted Carrot Ginger Soup on page 327 and the Mandarin Orange Salad on page 328, and wasn't disappointed one iota. I chopped and combined the carrot, parsnip, onion, and brown sugar.

Chopped Vegetables with Brown Sugar
I poured in chicken stock, covered with aluminum foil, and placed into the oven for a couple of hours. Once removed from the oven, I carefully spooned all into a large stock pot, and added additional chicken stock. Then I let it boil for awhile, and finally pureed.

Making the salad was even more of a breeze. That involved macerating mandarin oranges in a combination of honey and cinnamon, and mixing with olive oil, salt, and pepper. That was added to fresh spinach and topped with toasted walnuts.
Mandarin Oranges, Honey, Cinnamon
The result? One fabulous late autumn lunch for me and more soup in the freezer for later. Delightful - just like The Christmas Cookie Club by Ann Pearlman (even without bar cookies.)

Soup and Salad

Roasted Carrot Ginger Soup
1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and halved lengthwise
1 pound parsnips, peeled and quartered lengthwise
1 large onion, sliced
3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
8 cups rich chicken broth, more if needed
Salt to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup creme fraiche for garnish
Snipped fresh chives for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the carrots, parsnip, onion, and ginger in a shallow roasting pan. Dot with butter and sprinkle with brown sugar. Pour two cups of the broth into the pan. Cover well and bake until the vegetables are very tender, about 2 hours. Transfer the vegetables and broth to a large soup pot. Add the remaining six cups of broth. Season with salt and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer partially covered for 10 minutes. (I completely forgot the butter, cayenne, creme fraiche, or chives. Still delicious!)

Mandarin Orange Salad
11-ounce can mandarin orange segments, drained
1 tablespoon honey
Handful of walnuts (broken into large pieces)
Lettuce (romaine, red or green leaf or mixed)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Place the mandarin oranges in a small bowl. Add honey and sprinkle with cinnamon. Set aside for several hours (or longer). Toast walnuts at 350 for 3 minutes, and let them cool. Wash and tear lettuce into bite-size pieces. Add oranges. Add enough olive oil to wet greens and toss well. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and sprinkle with walnuts. Note: If taking to a potluck, wait to toss with olive oil and keep walnuts in a small bag until ready to serve. (I used spinach instead of lettuce and toasted my walnuts in a dry pan on the stove top until nearly smoking and slightly burnt.)

P.S. CBS picked up rights to the book, so don't be surprised if The Christmas Cookie Club becomes another one of those oft-repeated holiday specials.

November 22, 2011

Sweet & Sour Turkey: A Family Tradition

I have waxed poetic about this recipe more than once because, frankly, it's one of those never-fail, long-lasting recipes that I don't know if I could live without. 

Mom got the recipe from a friend of hers, and made it for us sometime back in the 1970s. It passed the "will kids it it" test, and has been a staple in the family ever since. I dare you to not like this. 

It's called Sweet and Sour Turkey, but I usually make it with chicken. In fact, I went out and bought a supermarket rotisserie chicken just for this, although I've also made it with leftover Sunday roast chicken, too. Not recently mind, you, but it has happened in the past.

This is what it looks like:

Sauce ingredients
Stir-frying in progress
Sauce cooked and thickened
Sweet & Sour Turkey Over Rice
And this is how you make 7-8 servings:

2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup turkey stock
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup cider vinegard
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup catsup
Combine these and cook and stir until thick and clear. Set aside.

2 T vegetable oil
3/4 cup pineapple chunks, drained
3/4 cup carrots, sliced diagonally
3/4 cup green pepper, chopped
4 cups turkey, cooked, cubed
Stir fry carrots in oil for 1 minute. Add pepper, fruit, turkey, and cook until heated through. Add sauce. Stir and heat for a few minutes. Serve over hot rice. 

Here are some notes from Mom over the years:

  • Make with chicken instead of turkey (use chicken stock, too.)
  • Use mandarin oranges, apples, sweet baby gherkin pickles.
  • Use the microwave to make the sauce.
  • Use 2 cups meat, which makes enough for two dinner servings and a little left over for lunch.
  • Use whatever you want for carrots and pineapple, about a cup each.
  • Substitute chili sauce (mom makes her own) for the catsup.

I substituted red pepper for green, and added sliced zucchini plus chopped baby corn...and some celery, too: I prefer more vegetables than meat in stir-fry meals. The recipe freezes well, though you'll be lucky if there are any leftovers to freeze. 

Now go get the ingredients and prepare it very soon. You will love it, and you will thank me for it over and over and over. Thoroughly enjoy!

November 18, 2011

Two For The Road, Cooking For One

I recently explored The Pleasures of Cooking for One by Judith Jones. I understand now why she was recognized by the James Beard Foundation with a Lifetime Achievement Award, and I sure wish I would have had this book earlier in my life. 

I had a small pork tenderloin in the freezer, so decided to try the recipe for same on page 42. It's a simple enough recipe, yet, when push came to shove, I didn't bother with the marinade. I hadn't thought about it early enough - like in the  morning before work - and wasn't interested in waiting around for the marination. 

I seasoned the meat with a little salt, pepper, garlic powder, and placed the meat in a pan for roasting along side parsnips, turnip, and a itty bitty winter squash. 

Small Squash

Small Roasted Pork Tenderloin
The result was one boring dinner. The pork tenderloin was perfect, but the vegetables could have roasted longer. 

The next night I moved on to one of two "recipe two" choices that Jones offers: Pork Stir-Fry With Vegetables. I confess I didn't add as much ginger as the recipe called for. I don't think I added the full amount of freshly minced garlic either. I also confess that that's probably why the sauce wasn't so flavorful.

Even with my personal failings, by adding sugar-snap peas, bell pepper, mushrooms, cashews, and a few shakes of sesame oil, this was a winning recipe. 

And it was the perfect amount for one person (who wanted leftovers for tomorrow.)

The chapter on cheese is indispensable. The advice on nine ways to use turkey is fabulous advice for the holiday season; Jones suggests soup, tettrazini, pilaf, strata, salad, croquette, sandwich, crepe, and finally hash - all with suggested accompaniments and spices. The book is packed with little nuggets of information to savor.

Opening pages of the cheese chapter

Honestly, none of recipes that I tried blew me away. What they did, though, was give me confidence, and a certain sense of home. A comfort zone. 

It's as if you're in the kitchen with Jones, and she's passing on her knowledge to you - and only you. About her Vermont garden's never-ending supply of zucchini, Jones writes...
'Anyone who has a garden knows about the pressure to eat up the zucchini you've planted. You hate to see it go to waste. But the advantage to growing your own is that you can harvest the zucchini while they are still very young and have a more intense flavor (and you can use the male blossoms, too.)"
While I was reading and cooking from the book, more than once I thought to myself (or said aloud to the cats,)  "wish I would have known this when I was..."  

So if you've got to buy a gift for someone just learning to cook, consider The Pleasures of Cooking for OneIt's the type of gift that will certainly reverberate through the years. It will definitely not be leaving my crowded cookbook shelves. 

November 13, 2011

Green Hairball & Egg, No Ham

I'm exploring a few recipes from The Pleasures of Cooking for One by Judith Jones.

Looking for something simple a cozy dinner in tonight? Try the Baked Eggs recipe on page 98-99. Don't be daunted by the fact that the recipe stretches between two pages. This is a 6"x8" book, and the recipe is short.

Plus, this is cooking for one person, so the list of ingredients is very small: one zucchini, a little butter, 3 mushrooms, one scallion, a tablespoon or so of heavy cream, and an egg. Salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese are optional.

First, I grated the zucchini, mixed in a little salt, and let it set over a bowl to drain.

I'd forgotten to get scallions, so opted for chopped onion. The mushrooms followed next and seriously - it was perhaps 1/4 cup onion and a small (by comparison) mountain of mushrooms.

When you're cooking for one person, the hardest thing to get used to has to be the smaller amounts. Cooking for four - no problem. Many recipes are writen for four or more people. But cooking for one? Humph and bah humbug..unless you're a leftover lover.

Can't think of anyone who'd like to eat the same thing for six days straight. Not by choice anyway.

The onion and mushroom were sauteed with butter and then I added the zucchini hairball.


The drained and squeezed zucchini shreddings looked suspiciously like a cat's hairball - except green. I stirred the mixture around, but was still quite concerned. Green hairballs with chunks, so NOT appetizing. I was worried.

The recipe suggests using heavy cream; I had none and used just a wee bit of chicken broth to add flavor. I mushed the green hairball mixture into into a small gratin dish,and made a dent...

then added a sprinkling of that parmesan cheese from a green bottle. I cracked an egg into the center and placed the dish into a 350 oven.

I checked back in 15 minutes and the egg had not settled, so let it go just a bit longer and removed. I sprinkled on some salt and pepper, then added a couple strips of Grand Pandama cheese.

Sous Chef (err, Meow Chef?) Ivan volunteered to look glamorous while I snapped a picture.

And then I ate the green hairballs and egg.

And you know what? I liked it. I more than liked it: it was yummy. Adding the heavy cream would make this scintillating, a private decadance.

Here's the thing: if you nuked this in your microwave, it would be ready in minutes. Fast, sexy, satisfying. What could be wrong with that?


Perhaps the image of green hairballs?

At the end of the recipe, Jones suggests trying other items to create a cushion for the egg: cooked greens, broccoli, or mashed root vegetables. I'll have to try at least one of those some day.

November 10, 2011

Food, Friendship & Math

In addition to enjoying cooking, I also love to read - hence my ever-expanding collection of cookbooks. But how do you "collect" an e-book? 
I recently did some traveling for business, and took along a paperback and an e-book. I liked reading from both. The paperback was Perdido Street Station, and -let me tell you- you don't want to cook anything from the steampunk book unless it's for Halloween. (It's a good read, certainly, but not a cookbook.)
The e-book was The Recipe Club: A Tale of Food and Friendship by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel with recipes by Melissa Clark, and was published in 2009.
It's a breezy read, mostly composed of a series of emails (current times) and letters (from childhood) written between two "friendemies" who were once best of friends. 
Recipes were created specifically for the book and reflect story lines a la "Breakup with Boyfriend Wine and Dine;" that's not an actual recipe title from the book, but you get the idea. 
The Recipe Club is clever, but not pithy: I read from e-cover to cover in less than a day. I didn't care for the stereotypical good girl/bad girl contrast, nor the way everything works out perfect (too perfect) in the end. 
Regardless, this is the kind of marshmallow fluff of a book I like to snack on, a sort of literary comfort food. 
My favorite recipe title has to be the "Mighty Math Muffins." I'm math-challenged, but after reading this recipe, I'm wondering if it's simply an aversion to math class versus recipe calculations? Here's hoping you can solve the story problems in the recipe; the book gives answers.

Mighty Math Muffins

What's 3/4 cup of sugar times 2?

What's 1/2 of 1/2 cup of butter?
What's 1/6 of a dozen eggs?
What's 1/2 of 32 ounces of all purpose flour?
If a tablespoon has 3 teaspoons and you need 2 tablespoons minues 4 teaspoons, what do you need?
What's a teaspoon of salt minus 3/4?
Waht's 1/4 teaspoon of lemon zest times 4?
What's 1/4 of 16 ounces of milk?
How many cups of chopped cranberries do you need if you need 16 ounces?

Grease muffin tins. Then, when you have the math solutions, mix up the mysterious ingredients. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.

November 3, 2011

Sage Me From Disaster

I tried the Cooking Light app recently and was pleasantly surprised with my first selection of recipes, so decided to try another combination: Chicken with Sage Butter, Garlic-Roasted Kale, and Herb Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Like recipes in Cooking Light magazine, the app give details. For example, here's the delectable screenshot of the Herb Mashed Sweet Potatoes:

Screenshot of Herb Mashed Sweet Potatoes
The lower four windows provide menu accompaniment suggestions. In the upper right corner, you can save the recipe and retrieve at a later date, or build your own menu. There is also a dropdown menu in the upper left corner to select the type of food you're looking for: entree, side, dessert, and so on.

Tapping "See Recipe" in the upper right corner shows you something like this:

List of ingredients
Note that each recipe has an Overview (the picture,) Ingredients, and Directions. The ingredients are detailed, easy to follow. So are the directions - and each ends with calorie, fat, protein, carb, fiber, and more counted and displayed in bold:

Calorie Display

All good, right?

Then I started cooking, and the app was not to blame for what followed.

Cooking is a study in second-by-second mindfulness. You must be attentive to what you are cooking and to what you are doing at all times. If you fail to pay attention, something's bound to happen.

I had an extraordinary amount of kale in the house - both from the last weeks of my CSA membership, as well as from the local store. I washed it up and blanched with the intention of freezing immediately. And then I lost my concentration.

In emptying the large pot of boiling hot water, I dumped a sizeable portion on my left hand. I cussed, dropped the hot pan, then picked it up and finished pouring the water. I saved as much the kale as I could, started cooled water running on my hand. This happened in a matter of a minute or so, and my fingers felt like they were on fire.

After the burning subsided, I headed to the computer to ensure I'd treated the burn correctly. I had, and there was no need to call friends with medical experience or rush to the ER. I returned to the kitchen and kept running cool water on the burn. I watched for signs of blistering, and was relieved there was none.

Once again, I didn't bring my iPod Touch into the kitchen. My kitchen's just to small the the potential for water-induced damage too high. I wrote out the bare minimum instructions for the recipes and got started.

I minced shallots, threw them in a pan with some olive oil and brown sugar, and set others aside for a sauce. I set a peeled potato on another burner to boil. I pounded the chicken thin, dredged with salt, pepper, and flour.

I also prepped the kale. Or rather, I didn't use kale, but instead chose Tatsoi. This is another dark, leafy green, and has a mild taste. I don't like the sharper tasting greens, so this is a wonderful find. I figured I could mix it with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic, and roast quickly in the oven for about the time suggested in the recipe.

The chicken went into the pan, and I drained the sweet potatoes. I returned to the oven, stirred the tatsoi, and mashed the sweet potatoes with the shallot and brown sugar mix.

I flipped the chicken and returned to the oven. And was greeted with a wave of smoke - the tastoi was burned, mostly. I blinked my eyes, pulled the pan out, and set it aside.

Burnt Tatsoi
I pulled the chicken out of the pan and set it on a cutting board to rest. A pat of butter went into the pan, along with sage leaves, followed quickly by the remaining shallots, salt, pepper, and fresh-squeezed lemon. I used a whisk to stir the whole thing up, and the sauce was ready in no time.

I centered the herb mashed sweet potatoes on the plate, added chicken and sauce. I put some beautiful sage leaves on the side for pictures. Looks good, right?

Chicken with Sage Butter. Herb Mashed Sweet Potatoes

After picture taking, I decided to taste the tastoi, and was pleasantly surprised. While the vast majority was burnt and crispy, some was salvageable - and had a roasty autumn flavor.

The meal was prepared in little over an hour that floated by quickly. And, despite the burns to my fingers and tatsoi, the meal tasted delicious. I can honestly say that I've rarely prepared a bad recipe from the Cooking Light group.

I do not, however, recommend the app. For me it's just too cumbersome to operate while cooking. I can't see using a wet finger to tap on the screen to move from ingredients to directions, or from recipe to recipe. If it was all shown on one screen - maybe. Do yourself a favor, save money on the app and buy the magazine.