Friday, November 30, 2007

Bits and Pieces Today

I have to start today by bragging about my daughter. It seems like she can never find enough ways to amaze me. This weekend is her Nutcracker debut. She has spent the last two evenings at hours-long dress rehearsals, and just can't seem to get enough! Despite the late hours she has been waking chipper and ready to head to school, because once she's at school, that means she's that much closer to going back to Nutcracker activities. Tonight is her first performance, and we're all so excited for her- and she is equally excited. She just lights up when she's on stage, I cannot wait to see her dance her little heart out. She has two roles- the first being a battle mouse and the second being a Chinese dancer. She's been practicing her dances at recess all week, and The Nutcracker has taken over our home- every time we watch or listen, she drops what she's doing to dance her part. She truly is amazing and passionate about her dancing, as well as watching her colleagues on stage. She's really shown a maturity this week that, frankly, I'm not ready for. :-)

So the last two days there really hasn't been much cooking, nor is there going to be today or tomorrow much. We've had to have dinner at 3:30 in the afternoon,because it's just too late by the time we all get home to eat before bed. That's really flipping early. But I've manged. The first day it was the Oatmeal Pancakes we had on Halloween, and last night it was grilled cheese with Zesty Oven Baked Fries. It felt really strange to be making fries at 2:00 in the afternoon. But, they were a new recipe to me, and I'm rather pleased with them. The only error I made was that I double the potatoes, but didn't double the seasonings- I was worried about them being too zesty for my kids. As it was, they were tasty, but I could see where double the seasonings would have had me really excited about sharing them today. You can click on the link for them above to see the recipe on Recipezaar.

With all the excitement of having a daughter performing on stage, I've decided that I've felt a little left out. So I'm playing Oprah, and I've made up an Amazon store of some of Tummy Treasure's favorite things. I get asked quite often for ideas for gifts for people, so I took my favorite things and made a few lists. Most everything in my Amazon store is tried and true for me, and if it's not, well, then it's something I really, really want, and I know the foodie in your life will love it. Check it out! There's also a link in my sidebar if you'd rather.

I also wanted to mention today that I did finally get around to making The Pioneer Woman's Cinnamon Rolls. They are ridiculously easy to make- no kneading required. We had them Thanksgiving morning for company,and they were a huge hit all around. I had made them ahead of time and froze them without the icing, and then perked them up in the oven for 20 minutes before icing and serving. I think I'll be making them again for us to have Christmas morning. They're definitely dangerous, and I could see them becoming a staple in the freezer. I did cut the recipe in half, and I have it posted in my Recipe Trove as a half batch. Be sure and check out Pioneer Woman's take on them though to see exactly how it's done, and to see the recipe as a whole. Wonderful, wonderful cinnamon rolls.

That's about it for today. There likely won't be a weekend post here from me, as we'll be spending all day tomorrow at Kaukauna High School for three performances of The Nutcracker, and Sunday we'll be spending the day painting a set for next weekend's Christmas program at our church. Sigh. After that, we are free to be un-busy for the remainder of the holiday season. Knock on wood. I'll leave you with this picture of my handsome little man sampling one of Mommy's green apple lollipops.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Candy Season Has Begun!

As I was surveying my sprinkle collection the other day, my eye caught a small package of sucker sticks. I was excited! I didn't realize I had any of those left, and the wheels started turning. It wasn't long before I pulled out my sucker molds, fitted them with sticks, and started a candy-making session. I decided on a half batch, since I wasn't sure how many suckers a full batch would make. Plus I was thinking that a second batch in a different flavor might be fun for another day as well.

Believe me when I say that I made homemade lollipops in about 15 minutes, and completely delighted my children. I started with corn syrup, sugar and water, and cooked it, stirring occasionally, to 300ºF on my candy thermometer. I added a few drops of strawberry candy flavoring and color and then drizzled the scalding hot syrup into the molds. By the time Zander and I arrived back home from picking up Abigail, they'd cooled completely, and the kids were beyond excited. I'm not particularly thrilled with this strawberry flavoring, but overall, I love being reminded how simple something is. These homemade lollipops took very little time and ingredients. If you wanted to try making these without the molds, you could drop circles of hot sugar syrup onto a well-greased cookie sheet (or use Reynold's Release Foil and no grease) and then press a sucker stick into each circle. Remember to work oh-so carefully with hot sugar syrup. It will melt your skin like butter. Homemade Lollipops

1/2 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar

Combine ingredients in a sturdy saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Carefully clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Cook the sugar syrup mixture to 300ºF- or hard crack stage. Remove from heat. Carefully stir in flavorings* and colorings.

Fill sucker molds with hot sugar syrup, or carefully pour hot syrup into little circles on a well-greased baking sheet. Set sucker sticks into each circle. Allow to cool completely before handling.

Makes about 20 lollipops.

*You can purchase specialty confectionery flavorings at some craft stores, candy supply stores, or at my favorite online store Country Kitchen Sweet Art. For most flavorings you want to use 1/8 teaspoon of flavoring per batch of lollipops. For added tartness you can also add a pinch of citric acid, also available at a specialty store.

Taking Care of a Curry Craving

I've been craving those Indian flavor again- ever since Thanksgiving. I had it in my mind to try a turkey curry of sorts with some leftovers, but never got around to it. Then yesterday morning I was peering in the fridge, looking for something to nosh on when I saw the unopened bag of spinach. With a best by date of yesterday. At the same time, my mind replayed seeing a can of chickpeas in the kitchen annex, and I also recalled seeing a recipe somewhere with those exact ingredients. Sure enough. I found just such a recipe in one of my Cooking Light Annuals- the one from October 2002 to be exact.

Chickpea and Spinach Curry was more than what I was looking for. Not only did it use on-hand ingredients, but it was a 10 minute dinner. I gave some basmati rice a head start, and before I could blink I had a simple curry dish begging for a dollop of chutney. I did tweak the recipe a tiny bit. First, I added a clove of garlic to the onions and ginger. I've never made an Indian recipe without it, I wasn't about to start. I also used a curry paste instead of the original curry powder called for, since I had a jar in the fridge. And my final tweak was a tiny sprinkling of Garam Masala at the very end. I just love the flavor that adds to my curries, and I wouldn't want to eat one without it. I scooped the curry onto some basmati rice, and then topped the whole thing with a scoop of plain yogurt and my pear chutney. I couldn't have asked for better. I got everything I wanted for dinner, including leftovers for tonight. And honestly and truly- it was a 10 minute dinner if you don't include the rice. Adding the time for the rice takes it to 20 minutes. Not bad in the least to satisfy a craving and make a nutritious dinner in one fell stroke.

Chickpea and Spinach Curry

adapted from Cooking Light, October 2002

cup coarsely chopped onion
1 1/2 tablespoons bottled ground fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons red curry paste (I like Pataks)
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
4 cups fresh spinach
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon Garam Masala

Combine onion, ginger, and garlic in a food processor; pulse until minced.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion mixture, sugar, and curry to pan; sauté 3 minutes. Add chickpeas and tomatoes; simmer 2 minutes. Stir in spinach, water, salt, and Garam Masala; cook 1 minute or until spinach wilts.

Serve over basmati rice with plain yogurt and chutney.

Makes about 3 servings.

Really Good Pecan Pie

I realize that just seeing the words pecan pie may be causing you to shudder. To think back to the past several days and the holiday feasting that ensued. But stick with me, this pie is totally worth it. I love pecan pie. We never had it growing up. I don't know why, since it's one of my mom's favorites too. I remember when I told her I was going to attempt pecan pie for the first time, her warning me that it was tricky, so maybe that's the reason she never made it. Apparantly it can be made incorrectly, and the filling curdles and turns into something ugly. I don't know about that. My Joy of Cooking tells me it is possible to completely ruin a pecan pie, but I've never had one turn out bad.

Every year I try something just a little bit different. Last year it was a variation that included cranberries. That was good, but the cranberries were supposed to reign in the sweetness, and instead they kind of disappeared, so this year I thought we'd try a bittersweet chocolate. Once upon a time I had a chocolate chip pie that was a lot like a pecan pie. It was so good, but incredibly rich and gooey, and I've never tried recreating it. But adding bittersweet chocolate chips to a caramel-like pecan pie sounded so natural, that I couldn't help myself, and Pecan Pie with Bittersweet Chocolate was born.

I made up my standard pecan pie recipe, using Karo brown sugar syrup instead of the light corn syrup I usually favor. Then I reduced the pecans by about half a cup and added a full cup of Ghirardelli's 60% cacao chocolate chips to the filling mixture. This baked up in no time and I literally couldn't wait to try this baby out. I was not to be disappointed, and while it may have been a little rich for the post-Thanksgiving pie fest, it's been delightful to nibble on the past few days, and I'm sad to see it gone. The balance of bittersweet chocolate, pecans, and creamy caramel filling is nothing short of perfection. The dollop of whipped cream is completely optional in this case- it was fantastic either way.

Pecan Pie with Bittersweet Chocolate

1 9-inch unbaked pie shell (try Judy's Flaky Pie Crust for a no-fail recipe)
2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup corn syrup (I like Karo's brown sugar syrup)
5 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (use good quality 60% cacao chips)

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Place the pie shell in a 9-inch pie plate. Brush with egg yolk, if desired. Set aside for a minute.

Place pecans on a baking sheet and toast in the preheated oven for about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until nicely toasted, but not burnt.

Whisk together the eggs, sugar, corn syrup, melted butter, vanilla, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Mix well. Stir in the toasted nuts and chocolate chips.

Place the empty pie shell in the oven for just a minute to warm the pie crust. It should be hot to the touch. Pour the filling in, and bake in a 375ºF oven for 35 to 45 minutes. The edges will be firm, but the center will still seem quivery, almost like gelatin. Let cool on a rack for at least 2 hours before cutting. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Spinach Dip Today!

So where did that weekend go? Gosh, it's been a few days since I've apologies to those of you checking in, waiting on baited breath for my next post. But you know, it is nice to take a break from time to time. I didn't really want to blog while company was here, since that strikes me as kind of rude. I also didn't blog the last two days because we're slowly making our way through leftovers, and that's not very exciting to blog about either. I haven't done anything fancy with the leftovers that's really eye-opening or exciting. Saturday night I took the leftover gravy, mixed in some of the ton of turkey and poured it over bread slices for open-faced sandwiches. So good, but certainly not mind-boggling. Yesterday it was soup day, I wasn't feeling well, slight sore throat, congestion, tired, and it took everything I had to chuck a few vegetables into a soup pot.

I'm feeling a little better today, but I suspect Zander and I will do a bit of movie watching today. I also have to meander through the remaining leftovers and either use it or freeze it. (Today's use it or lose it day in my house!) One leftover that I will be enjoying later on is a Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip that I made for our Thanksgiving appetizer. I was thrilled with how it turned out. I started with a recipe in the November issue of Cooking Light as my inspiration, but then I changed so many things that it really doesn't resemble itself anymore. I have a friend who makes an amazing spinach dip quite often. It's always good, and I suspect always a little bit different, as she just chucks things in the bowl. One consistent though is the Gruyere cheese, which normally, I'm not a big fan of. It's okay, and I like it in things, like salad and dips, but by itself, not so much. I knew though that if I made my dip without the Gruyere, I'd be wanting my friend's dip and missing that flavor it adds, so I picked up a tiny wedge of it and added it to the dip.

The dip was spot on, and a huge hit with everyone here. The only change I would make in the future would, well, I guess I don't have a change. I could see adding some crushed red pepper flakes for an addition of heat, but that's about it. Serve it up with some garlic toasts and you'll have yourself a little addiction. This serves a lot, and can be reheated a few times before it loses all resemblance to spinach dip.

Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip
1 cup mayo
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 (8 oz) packages Neufchatel cheese (less fat cream cheese), softened
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 or 4 ozs. Gruyere cheese, shredded
1 (14 oz) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 (10 oz) package frozen spinach, thawed, drained, and squeezed dry

Place mayo, garlic, cream cheese and Parmesan cheese in a mixing bowl. Beat with a hand mixer until well-combined. Stir in remaining ingredients.

Pour into a microwave safe dish and heat on high for 3 minutes. Stir well. Heat for another 2 minutes, stir, and continue the process until the dip is hot and gooey and well-combined. Serve hot with sliced baguettes, veggies, or chips.

Can also be heated in a 350ºF oven for about 25 minutes.

In the week ahead I'll be sharing my recipe for Pecan Pie with Bittersweet Chocolate, as requested by someone. I'll also be sharing a fantastic all-purpose beef carnitas recipe- so simple and so delicious. I'm not sure what else... this week Andy is out of town working until Wednesday and then Abigail is performing in The Nutcracker this weekend, so it's a busy week with dress rehearsals and performances. Hopefully I can kick this bug asap! Happy Monday morning!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Wonderful, Wonderful

Thanksgiving was great! Everything turned out great, and we really had a great time. I think Abigail summed it up best when I tucked her in at the late hour of 10:30. Tears filled her eyes and she said she didn't want Thanksgiving to end. :-)And would you believe there is an entire pie that we didn't even try last night? We'll be remedying that shortly.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

I have lots to attend to this morning, so I'm afraid that I don't have much to post about this morning. I could go on about how two days out from Thanksgiving I've changed my mind on one of my pies and I've decided to create a new one. Or I could go on about how horrible the baguettes looked at the store yesterday and how I've decided to make my own. Today. Or I could go on about how wonderful my Mom is to let us borrow the mattress from her camper so that Andy and I will have a comfy place to sleep while family is here visiting.

But I won't. I have a lot of cooking to do, a guest room to ready, and a wee bit of cleaning to get done yet. So instead, I will direct you to this week's Kids Cuisine article, and Abigail's take on the important aspects of the meal. That girl is a wonder I tell you. Any day now she'll be writing her own articles.

I will try and get back later today or tomorrow to wish everyone a proper happy holiday. But since life happens, and my best intentions may fall through, I pray that each and every one of you has a most blessed Thanksgiving day. Know that I cherish each and every one of you and you are in my thoughts and prayers during this holiday season. I enjoy having you all at my virtual table, and look forward to the fun season ahead for us! Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I'm Going To Be Picked On For This...


Last year at Thanksgiving, my Dad walked into the kitchen and found my stack of serving dishes with post-it notes in them. There was no end to the ribbing for that one. I had wanted to make sure I had enough serving dishes, and I also didn't want to forget anything that had to go on the table. It was funny, it gave Dad something to laugh about and pick on me for. So this year I decided to ramp up the persnickety-ness and take it a step further.

Last night I completely set the table for Thursday's Dinner. Well, almost. When I opened up my table completely, I found I didn't have a tablecloth to fit. A call in to Mom fixed that and I'll pick that up later on today. But I wanted to set the table for a couple of reasons. One being that I wanted a visual of how many people we were having, and I did need to know how far we were going to have to open the table. It has two leaves, and using both of them fills the whole room end to end. I did end up putting in both leaves, but it gives everyone plenty of room. If we needed to we could squish in a few more, but as it is it's perfect. I had to stretch the table corner to corner, and it made for a tight squeeze on one end, but by setting a bench in that spot, and checking to see if the kids would be okay there, I managed to ease my thoughts about dinner and where we'd all sit.

I also wanted to check on the serving dishes. I knew I had enough but I also wanted to see if they would all fit on the table. Last year we had to put three dishes on the counter behind us. That made for awkward passing, and with a new table this year, I wanted to check it out. Everything fit perfectly. Each dish got a label, so nothing was forgotten, and I even managed two platters for turkey. Then I rearranged so that all the green veggies weren't together at one end, and all the potatoes weren't together. I think it looked rather nice. I also learned that my wine glasses need to be washed, so I'm very glad I got them out as well.
Overall, it was exciting to see it all set up! I wanted to just leave it up until Thursday! It looked so festive and ready for a party. But since my house is small and cozy, that was a bad idea if I wanted my wine glasses to be intact come Thursday. I also found out exactly how many chairs we need to round up from somewhere. Unless we get surprise company...

So with that, I have work to do. Now I need to figure out where I'm going to put six pies, and I have a few things that I can get done today, not to mention some cleaning. I hope everyone out there's having as great of a week as I am! Abigail has off the rest of the week, and her and Zander are just loving spending time together already. Knock on wood that that keeps up today!

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Snack During A Busy Week

It's going to be a busy week ahead! I hope I'll have the time to do a few postings,but I'll apologize in advance if I miss a day or two. In addition to being busy preparing for company, it's mostly a week of eating repeats, and not very exciting ones at that. And I figure that most people already have their Thanksgiving menus set, so suggesting this side or that side may seem a little redundant, given that's what a lot of websites and magazines are suggesting this time of year.

What I did want to mention today is a simple snack that you may want to consider including in the busy week ahead. And that would be homemade Caramel Popcorn. Do you know that it is much easier to make than you would think? A few weeks ago I was looking for something special to make for a munchie on a Saturday afternoon. My eyes fell upon my hot air popcorn popper, and my initial thought had been simply popcorn. But I'd also made a batch of caramels lately, and that ran through my head, and before I knew it, I was getting out the ingredients to make some Caramel Corn. The popcorn popped up quickly, and the caramel syrup came together in less than 5 minutes. The only time this snack takes up is inactive cooking time, as it must bake up in the oven for a while. But since you are free to do other things during this time, it literally makes this treat a 5 minute snack.

Hard to beat, we all enjoyed munching away on the caramel flavored crunchy popcorn. For an added bonus, you could always include some nuts of your choice, or for extra star treatment, you could add a drizzle of chocolate. I did that one year for a few Christmas gifts, I added a dark chocolate drizzle and some festive colored non-pareils for a really delicious, really fun little gift in a tin. Homemade Caramel Popcorn is way better than store bought, really easy to make, and would also make a great hostess gift if invited to someone else's Thanksgiving dinner.

Caramel Popcorn
8 cups popped popcorn (about 1/2 cup unpopped)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup butter
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 300ºF. Sort through the popped corn to remove any unpopped kernels. Place the popcorn in a large roasting pan or other deep pan, place in the oven to keep warm while you make the caramel.

Combine brown sugar, butter and corn syrup in a heavy saucepot over medium-high heat. Cook and stir to boiling. Carefully clip on a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Continue to cook and stir to 255º, or hard-ball stage. This should take about 4 minutes.

Remove saucepot from heat and stir in vanilla and baking soda. Pour caramel over the popcorn and stir gently to coat the kernels.

Bake in a 300ºF oven for 15 minutes. Stir gently, return to oven, and bake for 5 more minutes.

Transfer popcorn to a large piece of foil or sheet pans to cool completely. Break up into clusters. Store tightly covered.

For Nutty Caramel Corn prepare as above, except add 1 1/2 cups peanuts, walnut halves, cashews, or pecan halves to the caramel coated corn before baking. Toss gently.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Nailing Down The Turkey Dinner

Well, I bought my turkey yesterday! It's just over 22 pounds...think that will be enough for 12 people? I couldn't resist. Andy's employer sent us a gift check for a turkey, so I used that and ended up paying a whole $2.00 out of pocket for the bird- that's not too bad for a girl on a budget!

Anyway, here is how dinner is shaping up so far. I'm still on the fence about the salad. I was going to do a fennel and orange salad which is awesome with turkey dinner, but I really wanted to be able to include the pears I canned this year, and the best place for them is in a salad. So the salad will instead be a spinach-walnut-pear salad with an orange vinaigrette. Not quite the same, but it will do- I think. We actually kind of have a theme this year when planning out the meal. As much as possible, I want to use food that I've frozen or preserved or canned somehow. It just feels right to do so. Thanksgiving is about giving thanks for what we have, and in the spirit of being thankful for a bountiful harvest, how could I not use what I've been putting by. I'll have to buy a few things, but my grocery list is surprisingly small when I include what I have on hand already. So without further ado, here's my dinner:

Appetizer: Hot spinach-artichoke dip with crostini

Dinner: Apple-Cider Brined and Glazed Turkey (a new recipe this year!)
Make Ahead Gravy
Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes
Streuseled Sweet Potatoes
Balsamic Glazed Baby carrots and Brussels sprouts
Autumn Harvest Succotash
Pear/Walnut/Spinach salad with Orange Vinaigrette
Cranberry-Pineapple Sauce
Mom's Stuffing (which she's bringing)
Pickles and Hot Pepper Rings

Dessert: Pecan Pie
Cranberry-Meringue Pie
Apple Pie (Mom's bringing)
Pumpkin Pie (Mom's Bringing)
Cherry Pie (Mom's Bringing)

The Gewurztraminer will be flowing during dinner, and I'm not sure what will be flowing before dinner yet. If I can find a Shiraz-Grenache yet, it will be that, and for sure a bottle or two of Riesling. Coffee will come with dessert. I'm actually thinking about setting the table up in the next day or two to make sure I have room for everything. I also need to figure out where I'm going to stage the appetizers in the living room. It should be a fun next couple of days.

Friday, November 16, 2007

You CAN make them yourself!

Yesterday was a breakfast-for-dinner sort of day, but I wanted to try something different. We kind of rotate our breakfast options through pancakes, waffles, french toast, and eggs, and usually we do breakfast once a week. First of all, breakfast is very easy on the budget, so I appreciate that. But secondly, breakfast for us is usually cereal or quick breads, so if we didn't have breakfast for dinner, we'd never get some of our favorites. Last night though, it was time to recreate a new favorite. French Toast Sticks. You know you love them! We love them, but the french toast sticks we buy are clearly not healthy in the least. Usually they consist of a white bread that's been coated in some kind of batter and then fried before they are flash frozen. I would be surprised if there were actual eggs in the frozen variety. I've always wondered if they could be recreated in the home kitchen, and last night was the day to try.

I began with a loaf of homemade white whole wheat bread, which I then sliced into thick 1-inch slices. The slices got sliced again into thirds, so I had sticks of bread awaiting their bath. I made a simple egg mixture with eggs, milk, melted butter, sugar, and flavorings and set about dunking the sticks in the eggs. Thus far, it was similar in preparation to normal french toast. The trick was going to be baking these guys. Would it work? I put them on a greased baking sheet, popped them in the oven and walked away for a few minutes. About fifteen minutes later I flipped them over and gave them another 15 minutes. What do you know, they came out looking a lot like french toast sticks.

The true test came when I sat them in front of my children. They eyed them skeptically, but gave them a whirl. Their silence as they ate was very telling. These tasted remarkably like store-bought frozen french toast sticks, but way better for you nutritionally. Just using the homemade whole wheat bread was a huge improvement! They really were very good, and we all enjoyed them a lot. The kids preferred their dunked in homemade applesauce, and I can't complain about that, so these get 5 stars from us. You could probably reduce the sugar in the recipe a bit if you like, but I liked the sweetness, and since we did end up using homemade applesauce instead of syrup, I think the balance was just fine. I don't see why these wouldn't be freezable, so make a big batch of them and freeze extra for quick breakfasts throughout the week. Homemade French Toast Sticks-who knew it could be done?!

French Toast Sticks

8 to 10 slices thick-cut bread
1/4 cup butter, melted
4 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Cut the thick bread slices into thirds so you have 2 sticks per slice of bread.

Combine remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl, beat well to combine.

Dip bread sticks into the egg mixture one at a time, and place on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with cooking spray.

Bake in a 350º oven for about 30 minutes. Flip the sticks over halfway through baking time to crisp both sides.

**To freeze, allow to cool completely before wrapping well in a freezer bag. To reheat, pop in a 350 oven for about 8 minutes to refresh. Alternatively, they can be reheated in a microwave for a minute or two, but they will lose their crispness.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Brownie Attack!

Sometimes, you just want a brownie. I have found myself all too-often in the midst of a brownie craving, and rather than whip a batch together, I grab a box and make that instead. And I'm always disappointed. Every single time. Yet I still grab that box every once in a while. Why do I do that!?

Well, yesterday Zander and I were at the store, in the baking aisle, and it was his turn to discover the lure of the brownie. He pointed to the brownie mixes and begged for one. I reached out to grab one, when that alarm went off in the back of my head. It was as if a red light was flashing saying "disappointment! disappointment!" I had a true battle with myself there in the baking aisle. Those brownie mixes looked good I tell you- and as an added bonus- they were on sale! For less than two bucks I could have a pan of brownies. So I grabbed the box that most appealed to me and flipped it over. Huh. I still needed to add eggs, oil, and water. So that works out to more cost-wise for that box of disappointment. That was all that I needed to see. I put the brownie mix back, walked across the aisle, and picked up a can of cocoa. I assured Zander that we would make brownies as soon as we got home, and he was good with that.

He was very excited to make the brownies. And in fact, he did make the brownies. I had to help a little with the stirring, and chopping the walnuts, but otherwise, these were his brownies. He told me he thought they needed chocolate chips, but when I went to the pantry, I found I was out. However,there was a package of peanut butter chips, and he was thrilled with that option. So in they went and the brownies went in the oven. They couldn't cool fast enough for us, but once we finally cut into them we were rewarded with a great brownie. Full of chocolate flavor, and a truly great brownie. The peanut butter chips were a nice touch actually. Although I was informed by my son that next time they need peanut butter chips AND chocolate chips. That's my son. And these are My Mom's Brownies. They are my standard brownie, and couldn't be easier. The cocoa and oil don't seem like they would work, but really, they work for an excellent brownie experience.

Mom's Brownies

1/2 cup oil
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 cup nuts
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350º

Combine oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. To this, add the flour, baking powder, and cocoa- mix well. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts as desired. Pour in a greased 9x13 pan. Bake for 30 minutes- or until a toothpick comes out clean.

For more fudgy brownies, take the brownies out of the oven about 5 minutes early. Chill completely before cutting.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Utilizing A Pantry Find

Back in March, (was it that long ago already!) I participated in a blogging event honoring the humble baking mix. I bought myself a box of Heart Smart Bisquick for the occasion, and being a girl who doesn't waste anything these days, have been slowly coming up with ways to use this box of mix. I've used it to make coffeecake and muffins, but the most interesting has find has been Bisquick's own Impossible Pies. They are called impossible pies because you basically mix everything together, pour it in a baking dish, and some time later you have a pie with distinct layers. It's something truly different.

I'd made a savory impossible pie a few months back. That was interesting. Not really a repeater to me, but I hadn't tried a sweet pie yet. Then I was looking for a recipe for something completely different when I stumbled on the idea for an Impossible Coconut Pie. That just sung to me instantly. Coconut pie! Even better was the fact that this pie used all on hand ingredients and it was beyond simple to put together-put the ingredients in a blender and push the button. I did take it a step further and toasted the coconut for the pie, so I guess that added a step, but it was a worthy addition. We tried this pie warm out of the oven, and thought it okay. But then we tried it the next day, well-chilled, and thought it perfect. The Bisquick combined with something to sink to the bottom of the pie and create a sort of crust. While the eggs and milk and flavorings combined to form a sort of coconut custard. It's truly unlike any pie I've ever had, probably more like a coconut flan in a crust than anything else.

Overall though, I rather like it. I love anything with custard, and I love anything with coconut. I can't identify the Bisquick in the least, and I love how simple this is. Anyone could make this pie. If you took the trouble to top it with whipped cream, and then sprinkle on additional toasted coconut flakes it would be a rather fancy addition to a dinner party. And only you would know it started with a box of baking mix and a blender.

Impossible Coconut Pie

2 cups milk
1/4 cup melted butter
4 eggs
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup Bisquick Heart Smart
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
1 cup sweetened coconut flakes, toasted
1/2 cup sweetened coconut flakes- not toasted

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Spray a 10" pie plate or a deep dish pie plate with cooking spray.

Combine milk, butter, eggs, brown sugar, Bisquick, salt and vanilla in a blender. Blend together for about 20 seconds. Add the toasted coconut and pulse to combine.

Pour the blended mixture into the pie plate. Sprinkle the top with the un-toasted coconut flakes. Bake in a 350ºF oven for about 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.

Chill before serving for best flavor.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Leftover Re-Invention

One of the challenges to me over the last year while I've been watching my grocery budget is the dreaded leftovers. I've said it before and I'll probably be saying it until the end of time, I don't like leftovers. We don't like leftovers as a family. I don't know if it's simply a love of variety, but I really can't stand eating the same thing more than once in several days. That can be challenge when you have a tiny grocery budget, usually that leads to forced eating of leftovers. Or does it. Hence the re-invention- taking a leftover and using it in a completely different way than how it was first used. Take baked potatoes for example. Leftovers used to get tossed in the fridge whole, and then they'd get stared at for a few days before they got thrown out. Now, I take those leftover potatoes and do one of two things to them- I shred them for the best hashbrowns ever, or I cut them in half for twice baked potatoes (which can be frozen).

Another challenge for me with leftovers is freshness. I am a freshness nut. Leftovers must be used within 2 or 3 days or frozen, or they get tossed. Any longer than 3 days and I just can't eat it or serve it to anyone. Even cookies, cakes, brownies, etc. After 3 days they lose their freshness, so they go into the freezer if I want to keep them. What can I say- once upon a time I worked in a few grocery store delis, and that is where I learned to be freshness-phobic. (I dare not go into details, much too scary!)

So last night's reinvention was a bit of a challenge for me. We'd had spaghetti and meatballs a few days ago, and yesterday was the use or lose day. I had quite a bit of pasta leftover, and that's one thing I'm not very creative about reusing. I'll toss it into chili or soup or toss it with a different kind of sauce, but really. How many ways can you re-use spaghetti? Last night I tried something new to us. I took the spaghetti and tossed it with an egg, herbs, melted butter and some cheddar cheese (okay, a lot of cheddar cheese), and then put this mixture into a baking dish. Then I added some fresh marinara to my leftover meatballs and sauce and poured this over the pasta. A sprinkling of Parmesan finished the layering and it went into the oven.

30 minutes later I had Spaghetti Pie. A baked spaghetti casserole like dish that takes on a completely different flavor than the original spaghetti and meatballs. We all really enjoyed it and thought it was a great way to use up that pasta. The possibilities are endless, really. You could add whatever odds and ends you have sitting around that need to get used up. I strongly suspect that this dish could also be assembled and then frozen for a make-ahead meal. I will be trying that next time with it so that we're not having pasta twice in a few days. I'll apologize in advance for the photo you are about to see...I just couldn't get a good one last night. Sorry.

Spaghetti Pie
6 cups leftover cooked spaghetti (or other pasta)
1 egg
1 teaspoon Italian Herb seasoning
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 pound ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
1 jar marinara sauce
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

In a large mixing bowl, combine pasta, egg, herb seasoning, cheddar cheese and butter. Mix well.

Spray a 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray, put spaghetti mixture into the pan and spread evenly.

In a saucepan over medium high heat, brown ground beef and onions together until nicely browned. Drain any grease. Spread ground beef and onions over the top of the pasta mixture in the pan.

Pour the bottled marinara sauce over the ground beef mixture, spreading to the edges. Sprinkle the top with the Parmesan cheese.

Bake in a 350ºF oven for 30 minutes, or until bubbling nicely.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Mish-Mosh Equals Yum!

Saturday night I had planned to bake up some chicken leg quarters. Originally, it was going to be a devilled chicken, with a breading of sorts. But then I was digging through the pantry looking for something when I stumbled on half a package of Cranberry Beans. They had my attention for a moment, because I couldn't remember when we'd first had them, and I also had no idea how long they'd been in the pantry. I decided I needed to use them somehow for dinner, but at that moment, I had no idea how these beans were going to go with chicken. I also found that one of my butternut squashes in the basement had the tiniest of spots on it, so I needed to cook that up and use it before it infected the other squash. I still was unsure of dinner, but I set the squash to baking and the beans to simmering and softening, and then I headed out to the garden to debate on the turnips and beets.

While gazing at the turnips and beets, wondering if I should pull them or let them be yet, I glanced over at the remaining brussels sprouts stalks. These stalks I'd just left because there were very few sprouts on them, and what was there was the size of marbles. Teeny-tiny brussels sprouts. But as I eyed these tiny round orbs, I was overwhelmed by a need to try them, and wouldn't you know, even the tiniest sprouts were sweet and wonderful. So I grabbed a bowl and a knife and removed the last handful of minuscule sprouts from the garden, and a plan began forming in my head.

I was baking chicken, and once upon a time, I read somewhere about someone roasting brussels sprouts with chicken. I was certain that would be great, and filed it away for another moment. This was going to be that moment. I washed the sprouts and placed them in my baking dish. I drained my softened beans and added them to the brussels sprouts. Then I grabbed a carrot, diced that up and added it, as well as a stalk of celery and half an onion. Salt, pepper, and a tiny drizzle of olive oil completed the melange, and then I grabbed the chicken.

I seasoned the chicken lightly with seasoning salt, pepper, and some fennel spice rub, and laid it on top of the vegetables. Oh yes. My vegetables were going to bake while lovingly being bathed in chicken fat. The butternut squash would be served on the side, and we were going to have an incredible fall dish.

The end result was exactly what I what I had been craving. It was earthy and comforting and packed with flavor. I was reminded how wonderful cranberry beans are, and if you have a chance, do try some, they have to be the best dried bean I've ever had. They are so creamy, with a flavor that's unlike other beans. Paired with the brussels sprouts and aromatics, and then cooked with the chicken, the vegetables were clearly the star of the show, and the chicken almost an afterthought. There are only two changes I would make to this in the future. The first would be to add some chopped fennel to the vegetables. The second would be a squirt of fresh lemon juice just before serving to heighten and highlight the earthy flavors. Definitely delicious, the leftovers are going to make a great lunch today!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Thanksgiving is getting really close!

How did that happen? One minute it's October and I'm thinking that I have plenty of time to think about Thanksgiving, and the next thing I know it's almost here, and I'm afraid I haven't given it much thought. Yet.

I did think about it a little yesterday. I finally plucked the Brussels Sprouts stalks out of the garden. I cut off all the little green globes, blanched them, and froze them. Oh. My. Goodness. These are the sweetest Brussels Sprouts! Even raw they tasted great! I have three quarts in the freezer, and as I looked over my mountain of little green orbs, I wondered if anyone else at my Thanksgiving table likes Brussels Sprouts as much as I do. Or would it be a waste of their great goodness to dish them up at a dinner with so many other options? I'm not sure on that one yet.

The only certainty is going to be The Turkey. Oh, and Mom's Stuffing. I suspect there will also be the requisite mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, and plenty of pies. It's everything else that I'm on the fence about. I do want to use as many of the things that I've put by or preserved this year as possible. It just seems fitting for the holiday that the sweet corn I froze in July becomes a part of the Thanksgiving feast. Or that somehow I figure out a way to integrate some of those wonderful canned pears. And do I serve rolls of some kind? That just seems like excessive filler to me. I could certainly make some delicious ones, but is that just too much?


So maybe you could help me out today! Come on out of lurkdom and tell me, if there is one thing that you want most at your Thanksgiving dinner, what is it? What one thing would you truly miss if it wasn't on the table somewhere? Is there a particular pie? Or conversely, is there one thing that you always eat out of obligation, but you'd be perfectly okay if it vanished forever? Do share, I'm so indecisive these days.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

About Those Pierogi...

Well, as promised, here is the dough recipe for you today. It's a pretty straightforward recipe- it only has four ingredients, five if you count the water. But there are a few things that I have learned, through trial and error, about pierogi making to make your experience even easier.

The first being, if you're going to make pierogi, decide on your fillings ahead of time, make those first, and allow them to thoroughly chill. Pierogi will not seal around hot or warm fillings.

The second biggest tip is if you have the tools, use them. And by tools I mean a stand mixer and a pasta roller. The first few times I made pierogi, I made the dough by hand. It's a very tough dough to knead. Anyone who's made pasta knows what I'm talking about. It's tough, and you need to work it for a full ten minutes. And of course, overworking leads to a tough and chewy dough as well. So use your stand mixer, and knead on low speed for 5 minutes instead. I promise, your pierogi will come out tender and delicious. The pasta roller is non-negotiable to me. I can't even begin to imagine rolling out pasta dough by hand- and I'm sure people do it, but not me. Run it through the pasta roller on 3 settings, and you should be good to go.

If you want to see a few pictures of the actual process, so you get an idea in your head, you can check out last year's pierogi post. As you can see, you also need to not be afraid to use flour, or the little buggers will stick to everything. Another part of the procedure that I discovered last year is that if you're making them ahead of time- or are just making a large batch and wish to freeze them for future use, freeze them before you cook them. Seriously. Just lay out the pierogi on a cookie sheet that's been liberally dusted with flour, and pop them in the freezer for a few hours. Then drop the frozen dumplings into a freezer bag and label. When it's time to cook them, just drop the frozen pierogi into your boiling water- it works beautifully. And the pierogi will keep for at least six months if they're properly sealed.

As for fillings, as I showed yesterday, you are limited only by your imagination. Traditional fillings include a mashed potato filling, a sauerkraut filling, a cheese filling (similar to ricotta) and a prune filling. But really, you can use fruit as I showed yesterday, meats, vegetables, the sky's the limit. The only thing I would be cautious about would be the veggies from the brassica family. The broccoli and cabbage and brussels sprouts. I'm concerned about them getting an odor, yet I'm still contemplating a broccoli-cauliflower stuffed one.

Anyway, here are some suggestions for fillings. Today I will be making the butternut squash filling. I cook squash, mash it, and then mix in some caramelized onions, sage and nutmeg. This one is Andy's favorite. I'll also be making a few more cranberry ones I think. I'm also contemplating a chunky applesauce filling. Other things that have come to mind are:

A Mexican filling with meat of your choice and cheese (served with salsa and sour cream)
Shredded hoisin chicken for an Asian twist (or pork for that matter)
Crumbled, cooked italian sausage and ricotta cheese
Spinach and bacon (or other greens)
BBQ pork
Caramelized onions and gruyere with a little thyme (think French onion soup!)
Ground beef and cheese for a cheeseburger-like treatment
Leftover turkey and stuffing
Chopped steak and mushrooms
Pie filling of just about any kind

See? Just about anything you can think of could stuff these guys. In my mind though, I'll be keeping to the spirit of using leftovers, or things on hand today.

Pierogi Dough
2 Eggs
1/4 tsp salt
4 TBS margarine -- melted (I used butter)
4 Cups flour

In a small bowl, mix the eggs, salt, and melted margarine.

Place flour in a large bowl. Add liquid to dough and mix until crumbly. Add enough water to form dough. (About 2 cups of water.)

Knead on a lightly floured surface for 10 minutes to make the dough smooth and elastic.

Roll out a large piece and cut into 4 inch circles.

Fill with about 2 Tablespoons of filling. Fold the dough circle over itself, making a half- circle.

Pinch edges together and crimp with a fork.

Place in boiling water for about 5 minutes until pierogi float to the top.

"3 dozen"

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A Very Happy Accident

You know how sometimes something occurs to you and you decide to try it, and then the end result is something like "why didn't anyone ever think of that before?" Last night, I had just such an experience, and I daresay, the finished product bordered on nirvana. It was that good!

My adventure began with some leftover mashed potatoes. Dinner was simple, I was going to heat up some smoked sausage and leftover mashed potatoes for the kids, but I thought I would get adventurous and make some homemade pierogi with some of the leftover potatoes. I mixed my dough together, compliments of my handy-dandy stand mixer and then began rolling the dough out with my pasta roller. I began having problems. I must have put a little too much water in the dough, because it was sticking like you wouldn't believe, and I found myself cursing the dough several times. It took a lot of patience before I had about a dozen little dumplings for Andy and I. I decided to knead some flour into the remaining dough, and set it aside for another day.

Fast forward a little bit. I was boiling water, getting ready to drop my mis-shapen sticky dumplings in the water when my mind began wandering, thinking about other fillings to use with my remaining dough. For sure I would be making a butternut squash filling. But I was actually thinking on a blueberry and cheese filling I'd seen once. Since I don't have blueberries or cheese, it's not really an option, but then I thought about the cranberry sauce I'd made the other day. It was a light bulb moment. It made perfect sense to me! I couldn't wait to try it. Literally. So I grabbed a knob of dough, and Zander to roll it out for me, and I made four little cranberry pierogi.
I boiled them up, and while they were boiling, I tossed a tablespoon of butter in a saucepan to let it brown- oh yeah, browned butter today my friends. The pierogi came out of the boiling water and went into the frying pan. They got golden brown and crispy on both sides, and I poured the pierogi and brown butter into a small serving bowl where they got their final treatment- a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar.Seriously, these pierogi were like little bites of heaven. Obviously they were more dessert-like than meal-like, but they were incredible. The cranberry sauce worked perfectly as a filling. As we sampled them, we realized that in the spirit of traditional pierogi making, these were spot on. We were using what we already had on hand- cranberry sauce is plentiful this time of year for us. And the idea of pierogi in Polish tradition is that they were little hearty dumplings that could be made with whatever is on hand, and can help stretch a meager budget. This was just such a thing. These cranberry pierogi were delicious enough, that with a small dollop of creme fraiche or sweetened sour cream, I could see them being served in an upscale restaurant. So to serve them at our dinner table, it was like a treat for royalty- only we know the real secret, that it was made with leftovers.

One of these days, I'll share the pierogi recipe I use, in the meantime though, the wheels are turning, and since I have a huge lump of dough that needs to be used up in the next day or so, I'm trying to think of things I have in my pantry that I can use to stuff these treasures with. My first thought is that it's too bad I don't have any frozen spinach. I could see a creamed spinach type of filling too. Oh, and if you're curious about the cranberry sauce I used, you're in luck! I wrote about the recipe for today's article at Kids Cuisine, and for those of you locals checking in here, it's also going to be featured in the paper in the next week or two. Cranberry-Pineapple Sauce is a really, really good thing. (Especially when it's wrapped in dough and sauteed in brown butter!)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

So Delicious...

Yesterday I did some work on polishing up some recipes I've been developing for the local paper. They all turned out really good, I think, and I hope some of the readers try them! But since I made them earlier in the day, and they were going to be with dinner last night, I really had nothing to do as far as cooking for the actual meal. It was kind of nice. :-) Yet I still found myself wanting to cook something, and as we have a cake we're finishing off, dessert wasn't really an option. I opened up the fridge to see if I had something languishing in there, and I spied the last of a 3 pound bag of fresh cranberries. Immediately I thought of a cranberry chutney that had recently been posted on the Cooking Light bulletin board.

I am new to chutney. I made pear chutney this past fall and was so amazed with how wonderful it tasted. I still need to find some uses for chutney (other than topping Indian food), but with thoughts of this wonderful pear chutney in my head, I set about turning these cranberries into some ruby-colored deliciousness. And oh, good gravy, I was not disappointed! This is what cranberries are made for, I tell you. And even better? It was ridiculously easy. I merely put all the ingredients in a pot and simmered them until the mixture got nice and thick- all told, about 30 minutes of inactive cooking time. It just needed a stir now and then. When it was as thick as I thought I'd like, I tasted it, then tasted again. Then I had to share a taste with Andy, who was equally impressed.

Now I have cranberry chutney. And since I want to make sure it lasts as long as possible, I very quickly pulled out some half-pint canning jars and small-batch preserved two tiny half-pints of this wine colored nectar. The other half pint went into the fridge for, ahem, sampling now and then. Our turkey sandwiches will never be the same, and since this was so incredibly easy, I'm going to have my eye out for more cranberries just for this purpose. Cranberry Chutney would be the perfect addition to any table this holiday season- I'm told it makes a fantastic appetizer with some cream cheese and crackers, and that will be confirmed very soon. I'm also going to be on the prowl for more of Bob's luscious chutney recipes- if they're even half as good as this one, they'll be well worth the effort.

Cranberry Chutney
from The Farmhouse Cookbook by Susan Loomis

Cranberries are so full of natural pectin that they are ideal for conserves, and this sweet, tart spread is wonderful. It can be canned or frozen, or kept in the refrigerator for weeks. I like to use it on sharp Cheddar cheese sandwiches, as a condiment for curry, or alongside roast chicken.

1 pound (4 cups) fresh or frozen cranberries
I small tart apple, peeled, cored, and diced (I never peel)
2 cups packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup dried currants
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. yellow mustard seeds
1/2 to 1/2 tsp. dried pepper flakes

1. Place all the ingredients in a large heavy saucepan (using only 1/4 tsp. of the red pepper flakes) and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until the mixture thickens slightly, about 25 minutes. The cranberries will pop as they cook. Taste and adjust the pepper flakes.

2. Allow the chutney to cool, then ladle into jars. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 months. Alternatively, ladle into sterilized jars and *seal according to mfrs. instructions. Or place in freezer containers, allow to cool to room temperature and freeze for up to one year.

Yield: 2 pints

*Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner
NOTE: I like to add some finely chopped orange rind.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Mastering Beef Stock

It seems like it wasn't that long ago that I mastered the art of stock-making. After many failed attempts to produce delicious stocks, I finally made a chicken stock that was amazing. If you want to read about the day I conquered chicken stock, you need to back over two years to this day. Ever since then though, I make chicken stock and turkey stock like a pro. If I have chicken bones, I make stock. Shortly after that day, I also tackled a ham stock, which turned out equally wonderful. Then this past summer, armed with plenty of sweet corn cobs, I also discovered vegetable stock. I love going to the freezer and seeing all those stocks lined up, waiting to be turned into soup or stew or...whatever the fancy strikes. But I've never made beef stock.

Until this weekend. I had previously purchased several beef shanks from the local grocery store and tucked them into the freezer for another time. I think I've always been afraid of beef stock. In large part, because beef is kind of expensive, and so to buy all that beef, only to have it simmer and go to waste, well, I avoided it. But this week for Sunday Company Dinner, I wanted to make a beefy-vegetable soup and some homemade bread, and I decided it was time to try and conquer my fear of beef stock.

I turned to my trusty Joy of Cooking to beef stock, and first of all, I was surprised that there was a short way to make beef stock. Equally surprising was the addition of chicken parts to the stock process. Since I had plenty of chicken bits in the freezer for making stock, I added a handful of chicken wings to my beef shanks and vegetables, and first began by roasting them. It wasn't long before the house smelled fantastic, and I think Andy was disappointed that the smell was for stock. It worked very well, and it wasn't long before I was straining my stock to add my soup ingredients. And while I certainly could have used a beef soup base or beef bouillon, I think the homemade beef stock really contributed to the soup. There was a depth, a bit of umami that I'm certain came right from those bones and gristly bits. Not to mention, the silky texture that comes from the natural gelatin in those beef shanks. The soup turned out wonderful, and now I am no longer afraid of Brown Beef Stock.

Brown Beef Stock
Adapted from Joy of Cooking

Preheat oven to 425ºF. Lightly oil a roasting pan.

3 pounds meaty beef shanks, cut into 2-inch pieces or oxtails, split into chunks, or a combination
1 pound chicken parts, rinsed (backs, necks, wings, legs or thighs)
2 medium onions, quartered
2 carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
2 celery stalks, cut into 2-inch pieces.

Place everything in the roasting pan and roast, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, until the bones are well-browned, about 40-45 minutes. Transfer the meat and vegetables to a stockpot.

Place the roasting pan on the burner over medium heat and add about 2 cups of cold water to the roasting pan. Scrape up any browned bits on the roasting pan and then pour the water out of the roasting pan and into the stock pot. Add cold water to the stock pot to cover the meat and vegetables- around 14 cups of water.

Bring to a boil over medium heat, skim off any scum that forms as it cooks. Reduce the heat and simmer gently- uncovered. After about 30 minutes, add:
1 leek that has been split and thoroughly cleaned, and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 bouquet garni, including 1 clove

Simmer, uncovered, for 4 hours, skimming of any scum as it cooks. Also, add water if needed to continuously cover the meat and vegetables in the pot. Cook for 4 hours. Strain into a clean pot. Let cool, uncovered, then refrigerate. Remove the fat before using the stock.

Makes about 10 cups stock.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Weekend Extra: The Wine List

With the holidays fast approaching, it's time for me to think a little about making sure the wine cellar holds a bottle or two for when company comes calling. Personally, I don't drink that much wine myself. I would love to have a glass with dinner every evening, but the problem I have is that it's just me drinking the wine, and before I can finish a bottle it starts to turn on me. When I do drink wine, this year I have been treating myself to the wines of Washington State. I decided that if I wanted to learn more about wine, I should start with a region, and become familiar with what I like and what I don't like. Let me tell you, not enough people are talking about Washington State wine.

The first time I went shopping for Washington wines, I encountered some confusion on the part of the staff at the store. Why did I want just Washington State wines? These ones from (fill in the blank) are perfectly delightful...followed by a quick dismissal because I was stubborn. I wanted Washington State wine, and clearly, I had no idea what I was doing. I forged ahead, and was a little surprised to find that one of my favorite wines already was actually from Washington State. This was going to be a good experiment. Disclaimer: I am far from a wine expert, what is going to follow here is completely my opinion, so take it as you will.

My favorite wines fluctuate, I go back and forth between whites and reds, I really like them all, and to nail down a favorite...well, I'd just as soon choose a favorite child, you know? Lately, my favorite has been Riesling. Riesling is a delightful, crisp white wine, and if it's done poorly, you know. But when it's done's like a song in a glass. The winery who makes what is hands-down the best Riesling for me is made by Chateau St. Michelle, the oldest winery in Washington State, actually. Their Rieslings are perfection and are perfect any time of year.

A close second for me, also from Chateau St. Michelle is their Gewurztraminer, although in all fairness, the Gewurztraminer is bottled under the Columbia Valley label. The Gewurztraminer is a German style white wine that packs some spice to it. If you want to try it at it's best, try it with your Thanksgiving turkey- it's the perfect pairing for the turkey dinner and all the trimmings. I know that's what we'll be having this year. If you've never had a Gewurztraminer, you're missing out- find the nearest wine shop and pick up a bottle from Columbia Valley- trust me, it's a good one.

Another wine label from Washington State who makes exceptional wine is the Columbia Crest winery. I enjoy Columbia Crest for their red varietals specifically. They do them very well, and I confess another difficulty in choosing a favorite. I think it would be a tie, specifically for their 2004 Reserve Syrah and their 2003 Reserve Merlot- although now that I'm thinking about this, the 2004 Reserve Cabernet Sauvingon is not bad either, just not my favorite. All of their red wines that I've had are smooth and delicious. But don't ignore Columbia Crest white's either- their Chardonnay clearly stands on it's own two feet.

And finally today, an honorable mention to the Andrew Will Winery. Their wines are difficult for me to find around here, but I did find myself a bottle of their Champoux- I'm not sure of the reserve, and it was a great wine. Full of flavor and nuance, and a complexity that I don't think I've really experienced before. If you can find Andrew Will wines near you, it would be well worth checking out.

There are many other wines available from Washington State. In fact, I believe the last count is somewhere over 500 wineries, but one thing is very clear. Those Washingtonians know their wine, and the grapes grown their are wonderful. I am clearly far from finished when it comes to exploring Washington State wines, but so far, I am completely impressed and can recommend them without reservations.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Comforting and Addictive

Yesterday's planned dinner was a pork dish, simmered with apples and cranberries. It's a dish I'd made once before, had forgotten about and then this week was reminded of it, as I have plenty of cranberries floating around. Well, I decided to look at the recipe, and wouldn't you know, I thought it needed some work in order to repeat it, and that just made the dish not something I wanted to make. Instead I was drawn to a glowing report for a rather unusual dish that included beef, tomatoes, and cinnamon. The gentleman who highly recommended it has never steered me wrong in the past, and when he's gushing about how comforting a dish is, I know I need to try it.

The dish called to me from the computer screen. An old dish from 2002 and Bon Appetit magazine, I suspect that I even saw this recipe grace the pages of that magazine. (And it's also a reminder that I need to pick up the Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appetit!) Why I let it pass me by, I have no idea, and I'm oh-so thankful to Bob for bringing it to my attention because I loved it. Macaroni with Spiced Beef & Tomato Sauce is just plain delicious. What makes it unique is the spice blend of cinnamon, cloves, and cayenne. You would think it strange, but trust me, it is completely delightful and so warming and comforting! I changed the recipe only slightly. I used one large can of diced tomatoes instead of fresh tomatoes, and then I eliminated the tomato sauce. I doubled the cinnamon and clove according to Bob's recommendation, and the result was heaven. I did add a pinch of salt as well, now that I think of it. The only dissenting vote at the table was Zander, but he's still very much leery of one-pot meals, which this was.

Macaroni with Spiced Beef and Tomato Sauce
is quick, easy, and will be repeated here. I'm looking forward to leftovers for lunch, and I'm going to be adding it to the quick-and-easy files along with that Hamburger Buddy from a few weeks back. You could probably also add in more vegetables if you felt inclined, right off the bat I'm thinking some fennel would combine with the flavors in an incredible way. If you've ever had the Greek dish Pastitsio, and enjoy that, you'll love this one- similar flavors, but without the bechamel.

Macaroni with Spiced Beef & Tomato Sauce
from Bon Appetit magazine
Makes 4 servings.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground sirloin
2 large onions, halved, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/3 cup dry red wine
2 tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
8 ounces large macaroni
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in heavy large pot over high heat. Add meat and onions and sauté until brown, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add cinnamon, cayenne, and cloves; sauté 5 minutes. Add wine, tomatoes, and tomato sauce; simmer until mixture is thick, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

(Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Chill sauce uncovered until cool, then cover and chill. Rewarm before continuing.)

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain. Add to sauce and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer pasta to bowl. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and serve.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

A Halloween Recap-And Some Pancakes

Well, the kids had a blast yesterday. Last year, Zander didn't know what was really going on- but this year he was all set and excited. The kids wanted to do both trick-or-treating and passing out of treats. So we settled that the first hour they would spend on the porch handing out treats, and the second hour Andy would take them around the neighborhood. Here they are in full costume, my unicorn and my spiderman.
And here they are on the porch, they were so excited, and most of the kids who stopped by were really nice and polite- the older kids would ask about the costumes, and when there wasn't anyone in sight, both kids would run to the edge of the driveway and look to see if anyone else was coming, and then jump up and down when they saw someone and quickly run back to their post.
And apparently our neighborhood loves chocolate. I had decided to hand out non-chocolate this year, sweet-tarts, nerds, tootsie-pops, that kinds of thing. What the kids brought home was literally mountains of chocolate. Abigail immediately proceeded to sort her stash, and it quickly became all to clear that she is not planning on sharing much of this with Mommy. Zander then followed suit, although I had to help him with his sorting.

We kind of let them go to town last night- eating whatever candy they wanted. It was kind of fun to see the restraint, but then Zander tried Pixy-Stix for the first time. Abigail's never wanted to try them, and they really just always got tossed or sent with Andy. Zander decided to try one, and boy did his face light up! He proceeded to polish off a few more sticks, and then Abigail decided she should try one too, and well, they both had a bit of "bounce off the wall sticks" as we like to call them. They did get inventive and pour some into a cup to dip in with a sucker, so at least they were being creative. But I don't think they slept all that well...

Meanwhile. While they were out treating with Daddy, I put a bowl on the porch with a note to take a couple of pieces because I needed to get dinner going. I had originally been thinking an easy dinner of pancakes and bacon, because if Andy wasn't home, I needed to take the kids out, so dinner needed to be quick and easy and not from the drive thru. But as I popped the bacon in the oven and got out the pancake griddle, the irony struck me that I was going to feed my sugar-buzzing children what is essentially a vehicle for syrup. All they needed was more sugar. I still wanted to do pancakes though, so I decided to do healthy pancakes. I found a recipe, tweaked it up a bit, and I daresay, we had some awesome pancakes last night. They were very hearty and substantial, the slight bit of banana was perfect and the kids never knew they were eating some very healthy pancakes. In fact, Abigail cleaned her plate, and Zander ate half of his. He's usually all about the breakfast meat and only has a few bites of pancake. They loved them! Oatmeal-Banana Pancakes will sneak some whole grains and fiber into your family with no fighting necessary.

Oatmeal-Banana Pancakes
2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs -- beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 ripe banana -- mashed with a fork

In bowl, pour milk over rolled oats; let stand for 5 to 10 minutes.

In another bowl, stir together flours, wheat germ, sugar, baking powder and salt.

Beat eggs, oil, and bananal together; add to dry ingredients along with milk/oats mixture, stirring just until mixed (if batter is too thick, add a little more milk).

Heat a large greased skillet over medium to med-high heat or a griddle to 350ºF.

Pour in about 1/4 cup batter for each pancake and cook for about 3 minutes or until bubbles on top break but do not fill in, and bottoms are golden and set.

Turn over and cook for about 30-60 seconds longer, or until nicely set and golden brown.

Hold pancakes in a 200ºF oven until ready to serve.