Sunday, December 20, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009: The Pies Have It

It's a good thing that I'm still working on the Thanksgiving posts because I'm not cooking Christmas dinner this year. I'll be tackling hobby number two, sewing. I will certainly be in the kitchen New Year's Day, maybe New Year's Eve. Anyhoo. I tried to complete this post earlier this week, only to realize that I'd uploaded the pictures to the other blog's library. Grrr.

So here it is:

Again my sister-in-law's sweet potato pie ain't no joke. It really is the best sweet potato pie you'll ever taste (even without my secret ingredient). I've blogged about this before, but I'm holding to my promise to blog about everything I made for this year's meal.

Here are the sweet potatoes. These are hot from the oven. Yes, oven. Repeat with me, "Roasting intensifies flavors and brings out the natural sugars." Remember that the next time you are getting ready to boil a vegetable ...

Beat these with the paddle attachment. Add your butter a tablespoon at a time.

Add the sweetened condensed milk and sugar. Yes, this pie uses both!

Hook it up with spices and flavoring.

I add the eggs last. As usual, I lightly beat the eggs first.

Pre-made crusts this year :-( Not at all what I planned, but I found myself taking many a nap when I should have been cooking.

No shots of the finished pie. Know that it was delicious!

Pie number two was Cook's Illustrated's Apple-Cranberry Pie. I first made this in 2007. This year's was not as good as that one, but it was still good enough for me to compulsively eat pie for breakfast. That's really sad, I know. Santa is bringing me a new workout game for my Wii as punishment.

Start with cranberries, cinnamon, sugar and orange juice.

Heat it until it's the proper consistency. I didn't let mine cook long enough.

Next up? Apples!

Peel, core and slice. I sliced these a tad too thin. Toss with cornstarch, sugar and cinnamon and microwave. Yep, you microwave these before putting them into the pie. It keeps you from getting that big gap between the top crust and the filling when the pie is done.

Here's my little helper, Livvy.

Let's assemble, shall we?

Now for the apples.

Now for the top crust. There are a few steps here. First, how are you going to vent the pie? I let Livvy go to town with my pie crust cutters. The design below is her artistic brilliance. After you get the crust on, brush with egg white and sprinkle with sugar.

See all the leftover cutouts? We put those on foil and put them in the oven for a snack. I forgot they were in there. By the time the timer went off to rotate the pie, they looked like chocolate cookies!

Here's the pie:

Tools of the trade:

-Maybe I'll have this filled in by the end of January!

Thursday, December 10, 2009


So I'm probably the last foodie in the world to see Julie & Julia (at least I timed things well with Netflix). It was so inspirational, so beautiful and so like watching myself talk about and enjoy food.

Yes, I love to eat, but I really love to cook. This is why I'm not breaking down the doors at a new restaurant openings. Although restaurant food may be wonderful, it's only excellent if I can't figure out how to make it myself.

Cooking for me is the same release it is for Julie. I head to the kitchen when stressed -- not to eat, but to bake. The science in baking forces you to focus and is an instant self-esteem builder as you complete each step.

Cooking can do the same, but it takes more effort. The result is often a meal with multiple courses and something that must be plated just so. Coming in and making chili just doesn't have the same effect.

Unlike Julie, I don't have meltdowns, I do have fits of anger. Perfection at all cost!! That is until I realize how silly I'm being. I feel the same horror as Julie when people reach for salt at my table.

Watching the movie helped me realize that your true passion is where you see beauty.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009: Butternut Squash Ravioli with Crispy Sage Brown Butter

Here's my absolute favorite from Thanksgiving this year -- butternut squash ravioli from Emeril Lagassee. Man he is on it for Thanksgiving; the turkey brine I've been using for years is his too. This pasta is simply delicious.

It's funny because this was made after Thanksgiving; we made it Friday night. I had leftover filling and it was so good, I made it again this weekend (the above pic). I'm still working on shaping the ravioli. I also need to get it in my head that I need a lot of pasta and space for this. Yes, I'm a student of Alton Brown. I remember the episiode when he made ravioli on an ironing board. Mine isn't that clean!

So, it all starts with butternut squash puree. This was simple, I roasted the squash and sweet potatoes for my pie together. Y'all know I'm anti-boiling whenever possible. The oven really intensifies flavors whereas boiling washes them away. After roasting, just store the squash flesh in a plastic bag.

This recipe is really easy. Add the squash and mascarpone cheese to the bowl of your stand mixer. Yep, Old Faithful is doing it big for another Thanksgiving. Season with salt (kosher please) and pepper (freshly ground).

Emeril and I rarely disagree, but here's where I had to improvise. The filling was a bit bland. I ended up doubling the amount of cheese and adding nutmeg.

Let's turn to the pasta, shall we? I've made pasta before. This time I was sharing the magic of it with a seven-year old, Livvy. After I pulled the dough together, it was time for her to rock and roll. By this time, she was right at home in the kitchen.

Here's the beautiful dough. Doesn't that just beg for hot salted water and a drizzle of olive oil?

Let the transformation begin!

This is the only pic I have of Livvy making the pasta, but trust me -- she was all in the mix. After she rolled the sheets, we got busy applying the filling.

Once we got the ravioli filled and cut, We (I) headed to hot salted boiling water. I'm still loving my All-Clad pasta pentola. (Alas, I don't think Santa is brining me any All-Clad this year since I'm not spending my free time selling stuff at Williams-Sonoma this holiday season. I miss that discount!) You know the rules; when pasta floats, it's done.

Drizzle the pasta with a little olive oil and let it hang out while you tackle the brown butter.

Told you I need to work on cutting the ravioli. Livvy did a wonderful job crimping the edges, only one piece wasn't sealed properly. It just kind of hung out at the bottom of the pot.

I didn't read the instructions for the brown butter, but I knew it had butter and sage! The solids are just starting to darken in this shot.

Once it was plated, add roasted pecans. I added rosemary too. 'Twas tasty!

Tools of the trade

Thanksgiving 2009: Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake

PB280178Every now and then, you come across a recipe that does multiple things amazingly well. This recipe for an Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake from Cook's Illustrated is one of those. This recipe answers that deep need to embrace chocolate. It also is one of those special recipes you file away and whip out only for the most deserving.

Although it's called "old-fashioned," this was not the chocolate cake I grew up with! Part of that was because I used bittersweet chocolate insead of semi-sweet for the frosting. A bite into this cake made you pause. You couldn't keep your eyes from rolling back into your head.

I am pleased to report all of this praise. I think I'd attmpted this cake twice before and I was defeated each time. You think old-fashion would be simple and easy. Notsomuch with this.

Let's do it:

You start out by making a melted chocolate pudding. Double-boiler, chocolate and cocoa powder. That's the above shot. Next, get the dry goods together; mix the vanilla and buttermilk (what good cake ain't got buttermilk?);

Whisk the eggs, egg parts and sugar in a stand mixer until fluffy.


Wasn't that lovely? That was an action shot too. Now, add said chocolate to the mixer. Add butter and alternately add the dry stuff and the liquid.


Pour into prepared pans and bake.


Here's where this gets worrisome -- the frosting. This stuff has to be chilled to a specific temperature and then whipped. It starts with melted chocolate, melted butter, corn syrup and vanilla.


Add cream, stir to combine. Place the bowl over an ice bath and stir until it hits 70 degrees. Seriously. Then whip it and get it on the cake. One last pic because I had to really concentrate on this part. Even my little helper got concerned as we waited to get to 70 degrees.


Most of the time, I leave you with a parting shot of something plated or plated with a few bites taken from it. Not today; I forgot to take pictures. There is one slice of this cake left in the freezer. Depending on how it looks when it thaws ...

Tools of the trade:

Later ...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year 2009

I know. I promised sort of real-time Thanksgiving blogging. People, it was just too hard! Now that I'm reviewing everything, I'm happy to say that I may be able to piece together some video for dressing! (It's the little things.) Anyhoo. Thanksgiving was great! We were still cooking Saturday night. (We got to critical mass on Thanksgiving and decided to call it a night.)

Okay, to the subject of this post, my Christmas colors. Y'all know I love a good tree and table setting. This year, I'm going with pink and silver. I actually decide my colors about a year in advance; I get inspired as I put the Christmas decorations away. I'm already feeling purple for 2010, but that means I'd have to buy ornaments. We'll see.

Here's the tree ...

Now you know there has to be a matching holiday table.

Here's the place setting. That charger is so not centered. Gotta remember to fix that. I'm in love with those glass charger (Williams-Sonoma after-Christmas clearance, plus 40% off.) Placemats were scooped at Dillard's years ago on sale. I remember being peeved because the napkins weren't on sale. The runners are from Target. Christmas decorations are all about sales and carrying your vision across multiple stores!

Can't leave the buffet out!

Yes, I know I'm in desperate need of more pink stuff. It's surprisingly hard to find. I've spent many a Valentine's Day and spring sale looking for pink dinnerware, accent pieces, etc. The vase above is from a coworker. When she gave it to me (I think it was still hot outside), I knew I could at least attempt pink and silver without anxiety. Looking at it reminds me I never filled it. Gotta work on that too.

I like to get the most out of my holiday stuff, so the tree went up Thanksgiving night. (I had help from a little elf.) I think I had the table and buffet done by Saturday.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Up & At 'Em!

Happy Thanksgiving! I am about to finish everything. Once Chandra and Livvy arrived, Livvy and I decided to play the Wii. She's quite a little bowler! I think we'll be eating around 2, which really means 3. (Why break my record of serving the latest dinner ever?) I have pics and maybe some video from yesterday. I'll try to post later today. I may even convince my pint-sized sous chef to be my guest blogger.

It's turkey time!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009 -- Part II

The dishwasher is full. The washer and dryer are going and the pound cake is in the oven. Time to take a break.

The Mad Dash

Usually, a mad dash is a quick trip to the store, running for the car in the rain. Mine is around the house to do some last-minute straightening up before my company arrives. Chandra and Livvy are like family, so museum-quality clean is not required. I'm just doing some touch-up work. I'm not even worried about the kitchen. It reflects what I've been up to today. Speaking of which, I've knocked out dressing, sweet potato pie filling and compound butter. If I start the rolls and clean the greens before going to bed, I'll be a happy camper.

Off to put in my Merry Maids duty!

Thanksgiving 2009 - A Little Progress

I am a genius! In a stroke of brilliance yesterday, I decided to take a nap at 4:30. I wasn't officially up until 12 hours later! So, I'm a wee bit behind on my schedule, but no worries. Let's recap the progress. My goal is to really blog about everything I make this year; even if I done an entry about it before. Here we go.

First was the cornbread for the dressing. If you're new to the blog, let me tell you now that I'm in love with Cook's Illustrated. Most of my recipes are theirs. They were no slouches with the All-Purpose Cornbread recipe either. This has the sweetness of Jiffy with a better texture and real corn flavor.

First, and this is where my heritage meets the recipe: heat a cast iron skillet so that it's screaming hot. Cornbread should be made in cast iron. There, I've said it. I put the skillet into the cold oven (on the baking stone) and heat it as the oven preheats.


Next, process the wet ingredients: buttermilk, corn and brown sugar.


Add the eggs.


Perfect! Thick and creamy with bits of corn.


Before I start with the dry stuff, I take the skillet out of the oven and add canola oil. Do not use butter or extra-virgin olive oil. They will burn. I put the skillet back in the oven while I finish the batter.


Now, grab flour, cornmeal and and a scale. (Baking is a science; measuring is necessary.)


Add the leavenings and salt. Table salt for baking, kosher for everything else.


Whisk together and make a well for the wet stuff.

Grab a spatula and fold unitl moistened. I like to have a few dry bits left before I add the butter.

Bring on the butter!

Get the skillet and plop the batter in there. Hear that? See those bubbles? That's exactly what you want.


Smooth out the top and bake!


Golden brown and delicious! Just look at that crust! That piece is for the cook and the chili I pulled from the freezer:-)


Once cool enough to handle, break it apart and leave it out to dry out overnight.


Now for the trukey brine. This is recipe is from Emeril Lagassee.

Grab a stockpot. Orange juice, wine (dry please) start us off. I chose a pino grigio.


It is a brine - salt and sugar are required.


Add peppercorns, ginger, thyme and bay leaves. Take a moment to rough up the thyme a little to release the flavor. I got lazy and didn't chop the ginger. If I had been putting the turkey in immediately, I would've chopped it. I added the water last.


I refrigerated the brine separately. My intent was to add the turkey a few hours later, after the flavors had melded. They certainly melded since I fell alseep and the turkey didn't make the introduction until this morning!


Butterball added a gravy packet this year. That went straight to the trash along with the gizzard, heart and liver. I don't like gravy just enough to know it should be homemade. I have to be in the right frame of mind to eat organ meats, especially gizzards. It happens once every few years.


Do save the neck and tail. (Butterball didn't think I needed my tail) Use those to make stock for the gravy. This is missing some herbs. I'll add those later. I still have to get some parsley.


Tools of the trade:

I'll add these later.

Gasping & Crying

For me, this is the Thanksgiving of the parsley. I went to one store Friday and three on Saturday (had three separate transactions at one store 'cause I kept forgetting stuff) and yet managed to come home without parsley. Parsley is a must have for Thanksgiving and turkey burgers. Anyhoo, I braved chilly Chicago weather, a full parking lot and a vehicle that really needs to go to the shop for parsley. It's really a longer story that involved tears, but I'll spare you the details.

Before I headed out, I called my Aunt Carolyn who was fixing the first of her two Thanksgiving meals. Today's is for the employees. In mid conversation, she gasped as she realized she had one can of creamed corn and one can of regular corn. This would not do! She quickly got off the phone to head to the store. (She and I like to be done with grocery stores no later than the Saturday before the holiday.)

Just got of the phone with cousin Cheri. Cheri lives and dies by Patti LaBelle's first cookbook, especially Miss Patti's sweet potato pie recipe. I loved Patti back in the day, but she ain't got nothing on my sister-in-law's, Pam's, sweet potato pie. It was the best I'd ever had (until she gave me the recipe and I added my secret ingredient). One Christmas, Cheri showed up with Miss Patti's pie and Pam showed up with hers. Pam's was wiped out and Cheri's was left looking forlorn! Cheri tasted Pam's and then realized why. Cheri called me yesterday and asked for the recipe. I told her I'd email her today.

She told me she made the pies 'cause she couldn't wait on my email. She made five pies! I was impressed. (Cheri was never a lover of the kitchen. She married a chef, so why bother?) She said they were good, but not Pam's. She ran down her list of ingredients and said that the pies were flat. I asked her how many eggs she used. Her answer was three. "Cheri, you didn't use enough eggs." Gasp. Found out she didn't use enough sweet milk either. Gasp again.

She tried to take credit for using sweetened condenced milk instead of evaporated milk. Sorry. No points given, you're supposed to use sweet milk. "I talked to Mom and she uses evaporated."
"Cheri, yo' mama's pies are good, but they ain't Pam's pies." Moan and mumble from her.
"Your pies are probably good, they just aren't perfect like Pam's. Trust me. Whoever you made them for will eat them."

I'm headed back to the kitchen now to marvel at parsley.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Getting Ready

I did the shopping Friday and Saturday. Got everything except for pecans and parsley. Since I'm feeling especially lazy and it looks like rain, I'm wondering if I can get on without them. Ha! I'll probably make a Wednesday morning run. Hopefully, someone will want a pound cake and I'll need to leave the house anyway.

So here are the goods. The fridge is packed!


Check out the herbage.


Fruit and veggies: apples and cranberries for the pie (plus cranberry sauce) and lots of greens. There are some carrots and celery peeking out.

Aromatics and potatoes. There are six pounds of potatoes elsewhere in the kitchen.


And here's the guest of honor! He'll look much more auspicious on Thursday ;-)


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009: The Menu & The Schedule

Alright. Turkey Day approacheth. Since I have company coming, it's got to be traditional. Here's the plan:




  • Turkey
  • Dressing
  • Cranberry Sauce
  • Yeast Rolls
  • Candied Yams (for the guests. In my old age, I'm not a big fan of candied yams anymore.)
  • Greens (traditional, sauteed & creamed) Here's why: Although creamed collards absolutely rock, they are simply too fattening to eat every time I reach for leftovers. I can eat sauteed greens every day, but not everyone embraces the concept like I do. I'll have some old school ones for backup.)
  • Sauteed Corn
  • Butternut Squash Ravioli (I have to have at least one new dish! I need the challenge.)
  • Pound Cake (this goes home with the guests)
  • Chocolate Cake (I've been beaten by this cake twice, I think. This is my year!)
  • Apple-Cranberry Pie
  • Sweet Potato Pie




Friday - buy turkey (done)



  •  Brine turkey
  • Make cornbread
  • Make ravioli
  • Make pie crusts
  • Make pound cake
  • Air dry turkey  
  • Prep veggies
  • Make pies
  • Make chocolate cake
  • Start Rolls

  • Bake turkey
  • Bake dressing
  • Make greens
  • Bake rolls
  • Make cranberry sauce
  • Make tea
  • Make Candied Yams
  • Cook Ravioli

 I already have plans for the leftovers:

  •  Sweet potato and corn chowder
  • Turkey noodle soup
  • Turkey salad
  • Sweet potato creme brulee

Saturday, November 21, 2009

And So It Begins ...

I'd decided that thanksgiving was going to be rather low-key and simple. Heck, I'd been talking myself into making a pan of dressing and calling it a day. Yep, that's the mood I've been in for a while. Shocking, right?

2009 is the year of the budget. It's the year of balancing two hobbies -- cooking a sewing. Both compete for my time and my wallet. And up until last night, sewing was winning.

What turned me around? In spite of a good friend saying that she and her daughter were thinking about visiting from Cleveland, the Thanksgiving drive hadn't kicked in. Last night, I went out to get the turkey. That's when it hit me!

Getting the last 10-lb turkey made everything kick in. A little over 24 hours later, I have everything I need except fresh parsley and maybe more wine and liquor. I really don't need the wine or liquor; I'll be the only one imbibing.

Anyhoo. And so it begins!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I took Thursday and Friday off for my birthday. I ran a few errands, but I spent most of the time and a good part of Saturday behind the sewing machine. I was so happy and I took the time to recognize it. Today started with a rousing church service and then time spent behind the stove. I have been in or near the kitchen off and on since 10:30 this morning.

The blessing is that I was able to flex my culinary muscles a little. This makes two weeks in a row. It was something very comforting in planning how I was going to attack making five complete meals without repeats. And I'm going to bed with a clean kitchen - including a swept floor! I ran the dishwasher three times during the cooking marathon. This is good training for Thanksgiving.

I really am happiest at home. Not in that I-just-want-to-sit-around-all-day kinda way, but I really enjoy doing the things women fought to liberate me from! I say the suffragists fought to give me the choice. Who wants to be told to stay at home and cook?

Well, I've broken another camera. It's being repaired and I should have it back in a couple of weeks. I'm just a little agitated because the repair costs almost as much as the camera. Lesson learned. I have pics from last week, but I'm waaaay too tired to put them into a coherent post. Perhaps by the end of the week.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Little Taste of Home

I claim Little Rock and New Orleans as home. Technically, Little Rock is my true home. New Orleans has an equal place in my heart too. I lived there for three years and like most people do, I adopted it!

There are many foods I have to eat when I go to New Orleans, but there are only three restaurants I must visit. I can't remember a place that ever gave me shrimp or gumbo that weren't good, but not everyone makes certain dishes: Cafe du Monde for beignets (you can get those elsewhere, but they don't taste the same), Louisiana Pizza Kitchen for the Greek Pizza and Palace Cafe for Shrimp Tcheufuncte.

This post is about Shrimp Tchefuncte. (I'm so proud I can spell that without looking it up.) I almost died when I saw the Palace Cafe Cookbook at the airport bookstore last year. At long last, I could make this at home! (I never even thought to ask the restaurant for the recipe and I didn't see this book during my French Quarter cookbook trek.)

These are more pictures I found on the memory card in the old camera. I remember that I didn't make the dish perfectly, but it was close enogh to give me some of the flavors. Hence a "little" taste of home.

 Well a shrimp dish starts with shrimp, so here we go. Peel 'em and clean 'em.

Don't you dare throw those shells away! You'll need them for seafood gumbo. I think I see a shrimp peeking through the shells.

Now let's work the Creole meuniere sauce. You'll need lemons, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, heavy cream and butter. Here is where I messed up the recipe. I was trying to make a half recipe. I rememembered to do this for everything but the lemon!

I can't really say if there is a difference among hot sauce brands. In New Orleans there are three, Crystal, Original Louisiana (or Red Dot) and Tobasco. Red Dot is the #1 brand in Little Rock. Tobasco is in a different league compared to the other two in terms of heat. You'll want to use a regular hot sauce for this. Add Tobasco to taste later. I can't speak to Frank's or Texas Pete -- I refuse to buy them!

Now, let's move on to the shrimp. Saute chopped garlic in butter.

Cook until the garlic is golden brown. Add the shrimp, sliced button mushrooms and Creole seasoning (Tony Chachere's, please). When the shrimp are almost done, stir in the meunier sauce and chopped green onions.

Cook the shimp all the way through and serve with rice.

Tools of the Trade:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Another One In the Arsenal?

While I was visiting my aunt in New Orleans, I spent my days watching cooking shows and leafing through her cookbooks and magazines. She has a nice selection of the Cook's Illustrated special publications. In one of these, I found a recipe for a Cold Oven Pound Cake. Me being the lazy person I am decided not to copy the recipe then. I have a CI online membership. Surely, I'd look it up when I got home. So, um yeah, it's not on the website. It's a Cook's Country recipe.

Wouldn't you know it? I had a copy of the recipe anyway. It's in my America's Best Lost Recipes. Silly me. This book takes a slight departure from the regular CI formula. As the recipes are submitted by readers, there isn't the usual lengthy preamble for each recipe. This is the first time I've used a recipe from this book. I'm writing as it bakes, so we'll see how well it does.

I'm slightly worried because I had to violate a specific note in the book. You're supposed to use skim or 1% milk for this. For once, I only had 2% and whole. Oh well.

Let's get started, shall we?

The batter has four parts: wet, dry, fats and leavening. The dry is flour and salt. Wet is milk vanilla and egg yolks. Fats are butter and shortening (these are creamed with sugar). The leavening is egg whites! In a pound cake??! You'll see.

Whisk your flour and salt.

Cream the butter, sugar and shortening.

Whisk the egg yolks, milk and vanilla.

Now, beat the egg whites until you get soft peaks. This is where having two mixing bowls for Old Faithful really pay off. Make sure your bowl and whisk attachment are impeccably clean. I wipe mine down with a little vinegar just to be sure.

Alternate adding the flour and liquid to the fat. Start and end with the flour. Mix each addition just until incorporated.

Here's the batter after the last addition. See the dry flour? Don't let the mixer run until it's fully incorporated. You run the danger of over mixing and creating a tough cake with tunnels in the crumb.

 Finish up by hand. Isn't that pretty?

Gently fold in your egg whites. The first batch I fold in are sacrificial; they get stirred into the batter. They are used to lighten the batter so that folding in the rest will be easier. The rest are folded. Here's the finished batter.

Move on to your prepared cake pan.

Move on to your cold oven.

Bake for 45 minutes at 300 degrees. Increase temp to 325 and bake 45 more minutes. Nothing left to do now but wait (and clean up the kitchen).

The cake is done. I am disappointed in the crust, but I take 100% of the blame. I didn't use the right type of milk and I lowered the oven temperature by 15 degrees because my Bundt pan tends to cook quicker than the average pan. I'll go strictly by the book next time and update the post.

Here's the cake - cut into and enjoyed by some What's Cookin' Chicago Meetup members. The flavor was excellent. Just gotta nail the crust.

Tools of the Trade