ff-biscuit-basics

Food Friday: Biscuit Basics

Welcome to the bright and shiny 2017! We are almost two weeks into the new year, and I notice that I am still writing 2016. Sigh. Even so, I am trying to carry on with my very simple and basic resolutions. I am not giving up yet. I have realized that as the bullet train of time speeds from the station, I am unlikely to eliminate my many character flaws, but at least I can start now to hydrate and walk more every day. Let’s keep it simple, and basic, and reasonable.

2016 was good for walking, I averaged about 5 miles a day. (Not every day. I encourage Mr. Friday to pick up the dog patrol on the weekends.) Now I want to cover a little more ground every day, and maybe pick up the pace. Although I must whine that when Luke is sniffing every blessed blade of grass, it takes forever to cover even two miles.

So, smugly, Luke the wonder dog and I are drinking more water (less Diet Coke, for me; Luke has never cared for it, he smirks) and walking a little bit further on our daily rounds. We are also trying to learn some new kitchen skills: I’d like to successfully master and memorize a few essential recipes: biscuits, bread, spaghetti carbonara, last week’s macaroni and cheese, chocolate ganache. Luke has his essential role down pat – he is the designated observer. He starts off at the edge of the room, and magically inches his way closer, unnoticed, until he is practically handing me spatulas and potholders. I can always count on him to know exactly where I want to step next. His GPS skills are uncanny.

And Luke has his own opinions about food prep. He likes it best when meat is involved, because he has faith in the practical application of Newtonian law regarding the gravitational field: i.e. there is nothing that I can drop that he won’t eat. Friday nights are his favorite, because on Friday nights we make pizza. His pleasure is doubled with the arrival of both pepperoni and grated cheese tumbling off the cutting board, and at his feet, no less.

Luke is a patient dog. He’ll watch even when the pickings are slim. He isn’t too excited about my latest urge to become a practiced and intuitive baker of biscuits. (I want people to say admiringly, behind my back, of course, “She has such a deft hand at biscuits. Light and airy. Deelish!”)

Luke doesn’t appreciate the significance of baking a good biscuit – do we roll or drop? Do we knead? Buttermilk or self-rising flour? Flaky or crumbly? Squares or circles? Brush with butter or milk? Biscuick or scratch? Butter or lard? Luke does like the end result, though. Particularly if bacon or sausages are involved. Just give him a biscuit, damn it.

I tried this recipe last weekend, and for the first time I have baked biscuits with layers. Well, not counting those flaky Pillsbury biscuits in the can that we had been known to serve, on occasion, just once or twice, when we lived with the eating machine known as The Tall One. Now, with this basic biscuit recipe from the New York Times, I can home bake layered biscuits, that are rolled out, and that rise beautifully. I brushed the tops with some melted butter, and scattered a generous handful of Maldon salt over the tops, too. Crunchy. Yumsters. http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/5997-basic-biscuits

The Tall One likes this recipe for biscuits. He is a serious eater, so I would listen to him if I were you. It requires more scientific precision than I can muster on a Sunday morning, though. I prefer to think that eventually I will memorize the other recipe so I can whip up a batch of biscuits without needing to look at the recipe. Maybe in 2018.

Flaky Biscuits by Michael Ruhlman

9 ounces flour (a scant 2 cups)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 ounces chilled butter, diced
6 ounces milk

Set a mixing bowl on a scale and pour out the flour. Add the baking powder (pressed through a strainer if it’s pebbly) and salt. Weigh out the butter. Rub and pinch the butter into the flour so that the butter is well distributed and in fragments and small chunks, the largest of which are not bigger than peas. Pour in 6 ounces of milk and combine just until a dough is formed (you will see distinct whole chunks of butter in the dough). Form into a 4-inch-by-6-inch rectangle, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Unwrap the dough and dust it with flour. Roll out the dough to about three times its size on a floured counter, board, or plastic wrap, maintaining the rectangular shape. Fold it into thirds and roll it out again (it will be more resistant and springy now). Fold it in thirds again, press it down firmly, wrap it in the plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for at least an hour or until thoroughly chilled. Repeat the procedure again. The dough is now ready to be rolled out to 1/2 inch thick and cut, or it can be folded in thirds, refrigerated, and rolled out again one more time for a total of six folds, or turns.

Cut the dough into squares or, if you like, into rounds with a ring cutter or a glass. Bake at 350°F/177°C until done, 20 to 30 minutes.

ruhlman.com/2013/02/biscuit-recipe-and-ratio/

The Pioneer Woman has a great Buttermilk Biscuit recipe, with self-rising flour and homemade buttermilk, and lots of butter. You need to admire her excesses! Fabulous. http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/self-rising-biscuits/

Luke and I are going out to cop another couple of miles to justify all that butter.

“Hope makes a good breakfast. Eat plenty of it.”
― Ian Fleming

Food Friday: Extra Cheesy

Yes, I know we should all still be attempting to better ourselves and brighten the corners where we lurk, but we are about to get some snow, and I am switching into feral animal mode. I want to be warm and cosy, and not venture out into the cold. The last thing we need is a trip to the grocery store on slippery roads, when we could be curled up with our new Christmas books, or binge watching The Crown. We need lots of hot, gooey, creamy cheese.

Mr. Friday and I do not normally believe in kismet, because, for one thing, why haven’t we won the lottery by now? And we don’t venture far from home often, but after Christmas we took a little road trip to Raleigh, North Carolina. We probably should have been following in the footsteps of the great eater and food writer Calvin Trillin, tracking down some obscure, yet magical, backwoods barbecue, known only to the discerning and deserving. Instead we stumbled into one of Ashley Christensen’s restaurants, and were converted.

We had just read a recipe in The Wall Street Journal for the Macaroni au Gratin which Christensen prepares in her restaurant Poole’s Diner in Raleigh. Sadly, Poole’s Diner isn’t open at lunch, when we were hungrily roaming the downtown streets. We found Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, another of Christensen’s food emporia, and managed to grab a couple of stools at the crowded bar. We then devoured some fantastic fried chicken. Mr. Friday ate a quarter of a fried chicken, with a side of creamed collard greens, and I had a fried chicken biscuit, drizzled with honey and mustard, and topped with slices of pickled tomato. And since I was not driving, I managed to enjoy a rather tasty IPA. The bartender was charming. The hand lettering on the chalkboard menu was stylish. The crowd was neatly hip. The tattoos were multitudinous. And we fit in. Kismet.

Later this summer Food Friday will attempt one of the Poole’s Diner Cookbook’s fried chicken recipes. Right now we are concerned with winter comforts. We made the Macaroni au Gratin last weekend for a main dinner dish, and had the leftovers for a side dish Tuesday night. Yumsters, both times. And with a winter storm approaching, I am going to stock up.

I think the key to this dish is the cream. When I first learned how to cook macaroni and cheese in junior high school (when I wore an embarrassingly un-hip, rick-racked apron that I had sewn in Home Ec the previous year) we started macaroni and cheese off with a Bechamel sauce. Nonsense. Lumpy, flour-y, anything but indulgent creamy goodness. Go for the gusto – go for the cream. And be sure to use the best cheese you can find. I had to look up the Grana Padano called for in the recipe, and wound up using a nicely aged, hard Parmigiano-Reggiano. (I shudder now to think of all the chemical-laden boxes of Velveeta Mac & Cheese I served to the Tall One and the Pouting Princess every Monday night for their entire childhoods…)

Thrill factor: There are an enjoyable couple of moments when the macaroni au gratin is positioned briefly under the broiler. Fire! Melting cheese! Danger! Browning cheese! Sizzle! Hiss! Such is our level of enjoyment that you can see why we think it is practically a wizarding triumph for us to walk through the doors of a restaurant recently mentioned in The Wall Street Journal. I think after the snow this weekend we will have to get out more.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/ashley-christensens-recipe-for-macaroni-au-gratin-1482418450

We bought a copy of the Poole’s Diner Cookbook, and you should, too. It will keep you from going off the rails with nonsensical New Year’s resolutions.

It probably goes to show that kismet really isn’t about having any degree of cool, but being hungry in the right place and time. And if you find yourself in Raleigh, visit any of the Christensen restaurants, and I am sure you will fulfill your own personal destiny: Poole’s Diner, Beasley’s, Bridge Club, Chuck’s, Death & Taxes, Fox Liquor Bar, and Joule Coffee & Table.

Here are some other recipes from the New York Times for mac and cheese, but I think you should give the Christensen recipe a try. After all, they go through 10,000 pounds of cheese a year – they know what they are talking about. And she won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2014.

http://gardenandgun.com/article/poole%E2%80%99s-diner-mac-and-cheese-recipe

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”
-Neil Gaiman

Food Friday: Foolproof for the Holidays!

Are you ready for the weekend? Hanukkah, Christmas, parties, church, temple, relatives, nosy neighbors. They are all banding together to cause a seismic event that we haven’t seen for, oh, almost a year. Don’t take the easy route and guzzle the cheap white wine; I can assure you that you will regret that decision. Instead, plan ahead and arrive with armfuls of the simplest of treats. Just don’t tell anyone how easy they were to prepare. You are sworn to the Spy’s Test Kitchen’s Oath. Peace on earth, good food for all.

‘Tis the season! The famous test kitchens at Spy World Headquarters have been a veritable beehive of activity this week. There was a flash mob of publishers, editors and artists flinging flour, dropping cookie sheets, confusing baking soda with baking powder all in the name of research. We have been debating Christmas cookies and holiday treats of every variety – particularly those that we remember from childhood. We’ve gone through quite few glasses of milk testing these recipes, because we want to be sure you have only the very best to leave out for Santa this year. Don’t forget the carrots for the reindeer! Organic, please.

I am trying to simplify this year, as I say at the beginning of each Christmas season, and very shortly thereafter we are generally wading through my complications. My usual baking assistants have flown the coop, and editors and publishers are a mercurial lot. And writers? They just want to taste the results and protect their sources. After the initial taste testing, all of the support staff evaporated! I did not have any extra hands to set up an assembly line mixing dough, rolling the dough, cutting cookies, baking, cooling and decorating enough cookies for general distribution. The thought of doing it alone was just exhausting! So in the end, this year we will bake luscious bars, which are generally simple, satisfying and completely sinful. Even the cranky research chief will like these.

I always do fudge for the neighborhood, which I love it because it tastes deceptively dense and complicated, as if I had stood for hours over my warm Aga, with a fistful of exotic free-market cocoa beans, brandishing my trusty candy thermometer. I am sorry to disappoint, but this is the easiest recipe I know that requires more than peanut butter, a knife and a couple of slices of bread.

Foolproof Fudge
3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (14 ounce) can Sweetened Condensed Milk (DO NOT USE EVAPORATED MILK!!!)
Dash of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Line 9” x 9” pan with parchment paper

Melt the chocolate chips with the sweetened condensed milk and salt in heavy
saucepan. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Spread evenly in the pan.
Walk away. You can chill it for a couple of hours – I do not suggest cutting it until it is
quite cool and firm. Last year I jazzed it up with some rum-infused vanilla, and
our true blue letter carrier, Ron, mentioned especially how much he had enjoyed
this year’s batch. So you can probably experiment a little bit with other liqueur
flavors.

Millionaire’s Shortbread
Our friends at food52 have a recipe for Millionaire’s Shortbread which sounds divine. Mr. Friday and the Tall One spent some time gamboling around the hiking trails of Scotland, and developed a predilection for genuine Scottish shortbread. Wait until they try some home-baked, with generous lashings of chocolate and caramel.

http://food52.com/recipes/6932_millionnaires_shortbread

Secret Family Recipe Brownies

My mother never used cake mixes; they offended her New England sensibilities. She would never have considered Ghiradelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix, although I can assure you, it is a very fine product; many a box has migrated through our kitchen. When I was growing up my mother baked brownies made from scratch, and they were equally delish. These were from my grandmother’s secret family recipe, written down on a faded and thumb-printed index card. It was a family treasure, kept in a little wooden box in the pantry. A secret family recipe? Ha! Like most family secrets this was life-altering in its cunning and simple deceit – our Secret Family Recipe was pretty much word for word the recipe on the back of the Baker’s Secret Chocolate box! Except that we left out the nuts.

Helen Foley’s Secret Family Brownie Recipe
4 squares Baker’s unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup butter or margarine
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
Heat oven to 350°F.
Line a 9” x 9 pan with parchment paper.
Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with fudge-y crumbs. (Do not over bake.) Cool completely.
http://www.kraftrecipes.com/recipes/bakers-one-bowl-brownies-54515.aspx

Happy Holidays!

“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.”
― Laura Ingalls Wilder

Food Friday: Bubbly Self Care

We are in the midst of the annual holiday frenzy. There was an ad in my print paper this morning advising potential advertisers that the newspaper office will be closing at 4:30 on Friday afternoon so all those wacky journalists could attend the company holiday party. At 4:30. Wowsers.

I don’t have high stakes holiday office parties like that. Before opening the Spy’s much lauded Test Kitchen, one of my office parties consisted of inviting a friend over to have a beer and watch Leslie Warren’s Cinderella on our new fangled VCR. This year I am going all out and practising a new buzz word – I am going to self care. This Friday I am going to kick back and pop open a bottle of bubbly and watch the original Upstairs, Downstairs for a couple of episodes. There is nothing that makes me feel like a grubby, indulgent, middle-class American faster than Upstairs, Downstairs.

Prosecco or Champagne? It’s a personal choice. I am hugely impressed by a stately bottle of Veuve Cliquot, and would probably serve it to Mr. Hudson, the butler from Upstairs, Downstairs, if he ever came to call. But I find a pretty orange label on a bottle of Mionetto just as appealing. Lady Marjorie, also from 165 Eaton Place, would never comment on the lower price point. She would be pleased just to loosen her corset stays and have a second glass. Relief is on its way! And then Lady Marjorie will tell me to relax, and to enjoy myself a little bit. “You never know when disaster will strike,” she confides. (Lady Marjorie went down on Titanic, so she has some experience with life changing moments.) Mr. Hudson would tell me to pull up my bootstraps.

The Christmas cookies will be baked next week. In the meantime, it is Friday night, and it has been a long week. It’s time to take care of ourselves for once. This is an unusual undertaking that could be shared with a couple of discreet elves. Instead pouring a glass of my usual cheap winter Malbec, I thought I should test some seasonal cocktail recipes to get into the holiday spirit. These are crowd pleasers, but they require a little planning.

French 75s

“Hits with remarkable precision.”
Harry Craddock, The Savoy Cocktail Book

2 ounces gin
1 ounce lemon juice
1 spoonful extra fine sugar
Champagne

Shake the gin, lemon juice and sugar in a cocktail shaker filled with cracked ice until chilled and well-mixed and then pour into tall glass containing cracked ice and fill up the glass with Champagne. This clever cocktail was said to have been devised during WWI, the kick from the alcohol combo being described as powerful as the French 75mm howitzer gun.

“Remember gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne!”
–Winston Churchill

Champagne Cocktail

In a Champagne glass add a teaspoon of sugar and enough Angostura bitters to melt the sugar. Add a tablespoon of Grand Marnier or cognac and mix in with the sugar, bitters mix. Add a “fine” quality Champagne and stir. Float a slice of thin orange on top. This is what Ilsa and Victor Laszlo sipped in Casablanca.

“A cause may be inconvenient, but it’s magnificent. It’s like Champagne or high heels, and one must be prepared to suffer for it.”
-Arnold Bennett

As always, our festive friends at Food52 have some delightful ideas for nibbles to help soak up some of the bubbly we are sure to be drinking on Christmas. http://www.food52.com/blog/2807

On a recent trip to food-forward-thinking-Charleston, friends ordered Aperol and Prosecco cocktails, because they are oh, so trendy. I did not realize that this is the most popular cocktail in Italy. And now it can be one of yours, too!

Aperol and Prosecco

3 parts chilled, dry Prosecco
2 parts Aperol
1 splash soda
Serve with on the rocks in wine glass or rocks glass
Garnish with a slice of orange (this makes it practically health food!)

http://www.eater.com/2014/10/21/7020183/the-story-of-the-aperol-spritz-a-classic-italian-cocktail

This is very pretty, and so seasonal: pomegranate mimosas. Yumsters. http://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a46968/pomegranate-mimosas-recipe/

And the best of both worlds: a Black Velvet! Champagne and Guinness.This drink is simply equal parts stout and sparkling wine, and to be honest, there are some who will never understand its appeal. But to fans, this is a perfect special-occasion drink, particularly suited to mornings and late afternoons. I had my first on a chilly night in London. Divine.

Black Velvet

4 ounces (1/2 cup) chilled Champagne or Prosecco
4 ounces (1/2 cup) chilled Guinness Extra Stout
Pour the Champagne into a tall glass. We first had ours served in heavy pewter tankards, but at home we eschew the delicate flutes for a sturdy rocks glass. This is not an effete drink. It is robust, and fills your hand with determination. Be sure to pour the Guinness on top. (This is important: Guinness is heavier. If you pour the sparkling wine second, it won’t combine evenly, and will need to be stirred. I shudder at the thought!)

Enjoy yourself this weekend. Loosen the corset strings. And let the games begin, again, on Monday.

“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.”
― Erma Bombeck

Food Friday: Office Party Strategies

The holiday office party can be an ordeal. Or it can be a balm to your relationships with people you spend too many hours a day. Don’t you want to be the fun one? Don’t you want to sail home at the end of the day with your empty platter, smug and satisfied that your dish was Hoovered up by all and sundry, and not left to languish like the kale salad, or the tofu meatballs made with grape jelly? And it is much better to be the one who made a creative effort to please, instead of the loser who stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts for donut holes because you forgot the day of the potluck. Shame. Shame. Shame.

You need to stratgize. The Seven Layer Dip is a party standard. And though it is a party staple, it gets ugly. Fast. And then there it’s boring presentation, everything glooped into a big bowl, which might work at a family barbecue, but is never going to survive the onslaught of the hungry guys from IT. Presentation, at least for the first few minutes, is an important consideration.

Consider the individual cup o’Seven Layer Dip. Petite. Colorful. So appealing! I would also suggest using either an assembly line (it’s time to rope those children into helping you!) or put each layer of ingredient in a piping bag, and make each cup beautiful. Remember, you want to be the cool kid. It will be worth it. Honest. VP Sherri will surely recognize your doggedness, now. And your creativity. And your joie de vivre!

Strategy A:here is your basic boring unimaginative, uninspired, might-as-well-just-buy-it-ready-made-from-the-grocery-store version. http://www.mccormick.com/recipes/appetizer/7-layer-fiesta-dip

Strategy B: and this is the magically delicious and oh-so-cute version: http://www.the-girl-who-ate-everything.com/2011/12/individual-seven-layer-dips.html If you have any germaphobes in your office (and don’t we all?) this is the way to go. No double-dipping. No excessive food handling by others! And the tiny cups are adorable. Be sure to have some extra chips on hand, because you know people will want to keep coming back to your marvelous party dish.

Strategy C: The same little serving cups can be used for all sorts of tastiness. Chex Mix! Brownies! Stuffed tomatoes! Parmesan spinach balls! White bean dip! Bite-sized Caprese appetizers!

http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/pws_chex_party_mix/
I did this version of the Pioneer Woman’s Chex Mix for Thanksgiving. Using the fresh garlic and the hot sauce gave it a nice kick, which we really needed to sustain us as we set about preparing the enormous (and labor-intensive) Thanksgiving feast. You might think about the possibility that people will want to squirrel away a little stash to get them through that long, draggy, low-energy part of the afternoon.

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/robert-irvine/cherry-tomatoes-stuffed-with-chicken-apple-salad-recipe.html

http://www.hgtv.com/design/make-and-celebrate/entertaining/easy-party-food-ideas-that-won-t-break-the-bank-pictures

http://www.marthastewart.com/274717/easiest-party-foods#165899

http://ourbestbites.com/2013/07/bite-sized-caprese-appetizers/

Here are links to find the little cups:
basic: https://www.walmart.com/ip/Diamond-Multi-Purpose-Mini-Cups-With-Lids-2-oz-50ct/17056809
fancier: https://www.amazon.com/Appetizer-Catering-Supplies-Disposable-Shooters/dp/B01EQDTRFK/ref=sr_1_18?ie=UTF8&qid=1481226164&sr=8-18-spons&keywords=mini+plastic+serving+cups&psc=1
Little red Solo cups – probably not work appropriate: https://www.amazon.com/ALAZCO-Glasses-2-Ounce-Holiday-Tailgate/dp/B0152KLRU4/ref=sr_1_26?ie=UTF8&qid=1481226263&sr=8-26&keywords=mini+plastic+serving+cups

“Christmas time! That man must be a misanthrope indeed, in whose breast something like a jovial feeling is not roused— in whose mind some pleasant associations are not awakened— by the recurrence of Christmas.”
― Charles Dickens

Food Friday: Countdown to Thanksgiving | Baking

I am looking forward to Thanksgiving. We are celebrating as a small family unit, six adults and one two-year-old, and everyone is making their own contribution to the meal. For the first time the children are assuming their new roles as newlyweds and parents, and Mr. Friday and I are no longer the sole grownups. There will be additional cooks assembled for the big day who can assume the green bean casserole mantle. I can relax, as long as I show up with a fresh turkey, sausage balls, dinner rolls and a lot of Chex Mix. Pour some of the Beaujolais Nouveau, I am ready to be thankful.

I am mindful that the grown children still put away enormous amounts of food, and that there must be plentiful backup in case anyone gets peckish during the long weekend. So I am also planning on baking a couple of batches of Garden & Gun’s “Easiest Biscuits You’ll Ever Make.” http://gardenandgun.com/blog/easiest-biscuits-youll-ever-make

These biscuits will come in handy morning, noon and night. Initially they can first be served with Thanksgiving dinner, oozing rivulets of golden butter, or sopping up some of the nectar that is gravy. In the morning they can be re-heated and then loaded with bacon, eggs, sausage, cheese or Spaghetti Os, depending on the vagaries of the crowd. At lunch, the few leftover rolls can be the base for ham biscuits. (Be sure to stock up on ham, a little Swiss cheese and some sharp mustard on your market run.) If there are any biscuits left after this late date, you can use them to polish someone’s patent leather pumps. Or toss one, surreptitiously, to the loyal dog who has been following you around all day.

I have tried the recipe a couple of times now, and can report that short of going to a restaurant or having someone else do the baking for me, these were indeed easy and fabulous. And unlike Sharon Benton, who originated the recipe, I did not have access to fancy artisanally-sourced flour or buttermilk. I used White Lily self-rising flour and the grocery store brand buttermilk. The fanciest I got was swooshing melted French President butter over their precious little biscuit tops, and then adding some crumbles of some By-Appointment-to-Her-Majesty-the-Queen Maldon salt. Yumsters. Go for it.

I might shake things up a little bit this year. We can never quite remember what we served the year before – did we have Parker House rolls, or did we do Pillsbury crescent rolls? (No one ever remembers to Instagram Thanksgiving, so we do not have an accurate record.) Without telling any one, I have decided that we are going to have a Food52 recipe that I tested earlier this week. We are going to have Harvest Stuffing Bead. https://food52.com/recipes/64990-harvest-stuffing-bread

Harvest Stuffing Bread is aromatic and delish, and frankly the most expensive loaf of bread I have ever eaten. Perhaps if my herb collection was a little more up-to-date I wouldn’t have had to re-stock the rosemary, celery seed, thyme, sage, marjoram, parsley and powdered onion. $23.65 for those seven – yikes. I had best plan on baking this bread often to justify that expense. For Thanksgiving I will be trying out the dinner roll version. The other night I baked a satisfying footwall-sized wedge of bread, that was good again for breakfast in the morning. I love the crispy crunchy celery seed and flaky Maldon salt crust, which gave me the illusory satisfaction that I can bake bread. Plus the whole house began to smell like Thanksgiving, a week early.

The Thanksgiving countdown is winding down. Have you ordered your fresh turkey? Don’t wait until Tuesday, or you will spend all of Wednesday trying to thaw a damn Butterball. There is not enough Beaujolais for that kind of worrying. You want to sit back and watch the day unfold.

Here is some of my list of things to remember – because we are spending the weekend in a rental house I am not sure what sort of kitchen equipment will already be in place – so we are planning on packing the gravy separator, the electric knife, a festive turkey platter and the spare Pack & Play for the ranging two-year-old. Also candles, $23.65 worth of fresh herbs, extra President butter, a frozen (homemade!) lasagna, potatoes, sausage balls, and lots of Beaujolais. I hope someone remembers the beans!

Here is a handy checklist from Saveur magazine, in case I have forgotten something important: http://www.saveur.com/thanksgiving-recipes

Also – Cook’s Illustrated with a veritable compendium of sure fire recipes: https://www.cooksillustrated.com/guides/thanksgiving

National Public Radio celebrates Thanksgiving every year with a recitation of Susan Stamberg’s mother-in-law’s recipe for cranberry relish. http://www.npr.org/series/4175681/susan-stamberg-s-cranberry-relish-tradition The Spy will continue our tradition of telling you what to do with all those Thanksgiving leftovers.

Have a wonderfully sentimental Thanksgiving. Be kind to your relatives. Eat lots of turkey!

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”
~Thornton Wilder

Food Friday: Countdown to Thanksgiving | Sweet Potatoes

Thanksgiving is a meal steeped in family tradition, and it can be a veritable minefield of ancient familial conflicts and IEDs.

Do not talk about the recent election. Do talk about the Chicago Cubs.

Do not mess with family recipes if your table is loaded with competitive/combative siblings who would like nothing better than to prove they are the favorite child.

Do pick a nice wine. Food52 suggests a Pinot Noir. https://food52.com/blog/18295-the-only-wine-you-need-on-your-thanksgiving-table We like to have the current Beaujolais Nouveau, and then we pretend to sound as if we know what we are talking about wine-wise, which is absolutely nothing.

Do iron a tablecloth. And do set out some of the silver, unless your sister has her eye on that Gorham Lyric pattern pickle fork (never mind that it was a wedding present – it matches her silver pattern and she still hasn’t forgotten what you did to her in the fourth grade).

Do light some candles. Everyone looks better in candlelight. Even the sweet potato casserole you left in the oven for a few extra minutes.

Do thank everyone for coming and contributing. We are going through a big transition, and it is best to be loving and supportive.

Depending on your states of panic and skill, and how many plates you are juggling, the Spy Test Kitchens have curated some sweet potato recipes for your Thanksgiving holiday. As I said last week, we are going to be six adults and one energetic two-year-old this year. Some of us will be able to focus on dinner prep, while some of the others are child wrangling, and still others are catching up on football. Sharing is the word of the day.

I have been slow to come to the sweet potato. Frankly, Thanksgiving is the only meal I ever associate with sweet potatoes. Imagine my surprise when I discovered sweet potato toast. What a marvelous concept! When you wander into the kitchen on Thanksgiving morning, you can either inhale a few of the sausage balls I lovingly roll up for every major religious holiday that we celebrate, or you can consider your overall health, and consume some sweet potato toast. Yumsters. Sweet potatoes, not just for Thanksgiving!

Here is a short list of sweet potato recipes for your holiday enjoyment – ranging from fast and easy to slightly more involved, but still highly pleasurable.

Easy Peasy: http://www.familyfoodonthetable.com/sweet-potato-toast/

Here are some sweet potato toast toppings to consider:
Poached egg with bacon and guacamole
Sausage with guacamole, salsa and peppers
Prosciutto with avocado slices and tomato
Smoked salmon with guacamole and cucumber slices
Wild salmon, arugula, roasted tomatoes
Almond butter with fruit and drizzled honey

If you want to have a traditional casserole, but want to show your family that you are the fun one, consider this recipe:

Middling: https://food52.com/recipes/1662-roasted-sweet-potatoes-with-maple-smoked-bacon-and-beer

If you are trying to worm your way back into the will, and no one ever liked your aunt’s sweet potato casserole, then try this good old reliable tour de force:
Traditional Thanksgiving Sweet Potato Casserole: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/sweet-potato-casserole

If you have made wise investments, and are living an admirable life with lots of volunteer hours, and your only dinner assignment is the sweet potato dish – then for heavens sake, spend some time, and do a decent job. You may get back into your brother’s good graces after all these years.

What You do for Love: http://recipes.177milkstreet.com/recipes/sweet-potato-gratin

Remember to clean as you go, empty the trash, put the lid down, take the two-year-old out for a throughly exhausting run on the beach, and don’t drink all the Prosecco. We gather together for a reason.

“Wine makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilized.”
― Andre Simon

Food Friday: Squirreling Away

Luke the wonder dog and I have been enjoying our daily walks around town quite a lot these days. I am thrilled not to be sweating and panting from the merciless heat of summer. He, being a happy kind of guy, is just glad to be out of the studio and in a world of swirling smells and sights. And then there are the squirrels. The squirrels are everywhere!

Luke is a mutt of indeterminate parentage. We adopted him from the Humane Society four years ago when he was just a wiry black, brown and white pup. Since then we have learned that he sheds about a bale of fur every day, his favorite spot in the house would be smack in the middle the white sofa if he were allowed on it, he does not like the UPS man, he loves to play ball, and his heart’s desire is to catch a squirrel.

Luke is a short hair something. Passersby often comment that he looks like a blue tick. Or a short Doberman. Or a tall beagle. Or something else with papers and lineage. We think he is a true American mongrel – our own mid-sized melange of a dog. He is not a water dog, although he loves to swim – but only if he is retrieving his ball. He is not a retriever, until you hurl his ball though the air, and then he goes tearing across the field like a race horse, intent upon catching his ball. He is a snob. No common tennis balls for him. He is not a Lab. Only orange and blue Chuckit!® balls for Luke.

Luke is not nearly as fussy about squirrels. He is pathetically comical when he sees a squirrel. Suddenly he assumes his cloak of invisibility and cartoonishly slows his pace, as he tiptoes, silently, toward his intended. The squirrels will sit, unblinking, staring back at Luke, munching on their nuts, until the dog is inches away. Then, in a tiny furry flash, the squirrels pivot and exit the scene, often vertically. Keep in mind that I am part of this scenario, every time, as Luke and I are attached by 6 feet of heavy duty leash. In the cartoon that is our life, I am the dust and debris behind Wiley Coyote and the squirrels are the Roadrunner.

Fall is a marvelous time for the squirrels. There are acorns and pecans and dogwood berries pelting down from the trees. We squashed our way through some ripe-smelling ginkgo fruit yesterday. But the best part of fall for the squirrels (and for Luke) seems to be enjoying the Episcopal church pumpkin patch. We walk by the pumpkin patch a couple of times a day. This morning it was swathed in a cool wispy fog. Yesterday it was sunny, and before the church ladies arrived to set up their cash box, the church yard was buzzing with busy squirrels, grazing on the pumpkins and gourds. We saw one squirrel who was enjoying the buffet with a dinner plate-sized slice of pumpkin while sitting on a flat gravestone. It was a tasty looking breakfast. The squirrels had nothing to fear from Luke, because they were behind the wrought iron fence, and Luke was on this side. He paused often and poked his nose through the rails, sniffing, willing his luck to change. Luke is ever vigilant and ever hopeful. With almost a dozen squirrels to consider, surely the odds would tip in his favor eventually.

Back in the real world we are enjoying the notion of fall. As we turn back into the kitchen to prepare warmer meals for the cooler days, I am like Luke, and always hoping for a tasty schmackeral or two. I’m not hanging out at the churchyard, hoping to catch a squirrel for dinner, but I am always looking for something deelish and easy. Fall means the return of root vegetables. Get down to the farmers’ market this weekend, and load up on some local produce. Squirrel some away for an easy dinner (or two) this week. Roasting vegetables fast and easy, and you can take a little leisure time walking through the fallen leaves, watching the squirrels stock up for winter.

http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017703-roasted-vegetables
http://www.eattheweeds.com/ginkgo-putrid-perfection/

“Experiment to me
Is every one I meet
If it contain a Kernel?
The Figure of a Nut
Presents upon a Tree
Equally plausibly,
But Meat within,
is requisite
To Squirrels,
and to Me”
-Emily Dickinson

Food Friday: Boeuf Stew – Winter is Coming

There are many schools of thought (and even more recipes) about beef stew. Every family does it differently. It is a good and hearty meal to have bubbling away on the back burner; fragrant and fortifying. Julia Child’s famous Boeuf Bourguignon might be a little daunting, as can be seen in the fey (and much admired) Nora Ephron film, Julie and Julia. Lots of steps, lots of prep work, lots of cooking time – for a meal that gets consumed in a flash! You have barely ladled the chunky, meaty morsels into a pretty antique porcelain soup plate, just scraped the knob of sweet Irish butter across the hunk of artisanal French bread, and had your first sip of perfumed red wine – when the meal you have labored over for two days is but a memory. Poof!

My mother watched Julia Child on The French Chef on PBS, back in the old days, on the black and white Zenith console TV in the living room. She kept a supply of little three by five notecards to remind herself of some of Julia’s witticisms and helpful kitchen techniques. This must been the time when my mother suddenly decided to add red wine to her stodgy winter staple: beef stew. Otherwise, the fanciest she had ever gotten, cooking-wise, was when she bought a garlic press and introduced her WASP-y family to the flavors of Continental cuisine. Julia Child then brought us into the vibrant 20th century world of the global kitchen. Good-bye Jell-O molds! So long to Velveeta! Howdy, La Tarte Tatin. My mother never got to level of Pâté de Canard en Croûte, probably because the butcher she patronized around would never have stocked duck, but her curiosity and appetites were whetted and our meals certainly became more flavorful.

I haven’t had a chance to recreate many of Julia Child’s recipes. I dip in and out of Mastering the Art of French Cooking from time to time – when I want something ceremonial or mind-blowingly impressive. Boeuf Bourguignon is not a recipe to be entered into lightly. However, given a couple of home-bound hurricane days and a well-stocked kitchen it is a good way to while away the hours.

Be sure you have wine, bread, a small salad and then whip up a batch of Julia’s favorite brownies while waiting for hurricane season to end. Winter is coming.

http://www.food.com/recipe/best-ever-brownies-from-baking-with-julia-child-99113

http://www.tablespoon.com/recipes/julia-childs-beef-bourguignon/f7e0a6c5-710d-4c83-89a6-2a4936fec81a

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/beef-bourguignon-recipe.html#
http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/boeuf_bourguignon/

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2014/feb/27/beef-stew-bread-dumplings-bowl-no-potatoes?CMP=twt_gu

And if you would like to addle your sad winter-tinged brain with more possibilities and permutations – here are 42 recipes from the clever folks at Food52, who had a contest for the best beef stew recipe ever.
http://food52.com/contests/109-your-best-beef-stew

“If things start happening, don’t worry, don’t stew, just go right along and you’ll start happening too.”
-Dr. Seuss

Food Friday: Back Into the Kitchen

Summer ended last week. It is time to reacquaint yourself with the pots and pans and woks and cast iron skillets and cookie sheets that are going to be your seasonal life savers. Turn up the heat and welcome back to the kitchen.

I have some favorites that will be coming back into rotation now that I can’t foist most of the evening grilling on Mr. Friday. And I am relying on one of my favorite food resources, The New York Times.

Some folks have headed back to college, and have gone off their comfortable meal plans, and are fending for themselves for the the first time. There is more to life than ramen noodles and cold pizza. The rest of us come crawling into the kitchen each night, and wonder what on earth we can possible make for dinner without feeling totally keelhauled. Before heading directly for the cheap white wine (although it will be time to switch up to a nice inexpensive Malbec soon!) I want to point out that here are some basics that work without much risk of disappointment or failure.

These are easy peasy, as we are wont to warble. Throw that chicken in the oven and let the Slate Culture Gabfest podcast amuse you with their take on the intricacies of modern culture. And now you can have some wine. http://www.slate.com/articles/podcasts/culturegabfest/2016/09/slate_s_culture_gabfest_on_don_t_breathe_high_maintenance_and_harry_potter.html

Fettuccine Alfredo: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/9025-elaines-fettuccine-alfredo?smid=fb-nytdining&smtyp=cur

If that seems too fancy, here are eight, 8, ways to make mac & cheese: http://cooking.nytimes.com/68861692-nyt-cooking/961504-amazing-ways-to-do-macaroni-and-cheese

Salmon, for the fish eaters: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/5703-salmon-roasted-in-butter

Cast Iron Pan Steak: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016334-cast-iron-steak

Bearnaise to go with that fine steak: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017389-bearnaise-sauce Because if you are going to hell, you might as well go in style. Yumsters.

Because you really could have spaghetti every night.
Spaghetti: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016833-spaghetti-and-drop-meatballs-with-tomato-sauce

It took me years, YEARS, to get rice right. Here is a never fail approach: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016673-cant-miss-rice

Craig Claiborne’s Beef Stew: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1321-craig-claibornes-beef-stew It is going to get chilly, honest.

Even easier is a good meatloaf. Although if your household is anything like ours, you have some ancestral meatloaf recipes in place already. Still, does yours count pancetta among the ingredients? Doubtful. http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1012686-fancy-meatloaf

And here is the definitive list of the New York Times’s 50 most popular recipes: http://cooking.nytimes.com/68861692-nyt-cooking/3238216-our-50-most-popular-recipes

You are on your own for salads and desserts. For this week, at least. Next week – breads!

“No man is lonely eating spaghetti; it requires so much attention.”
-Christopher Morley