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.