Food Friday: Simply Chicken Potpie

FF_SimplyChickenPotPie_Jan242014

I have been out of town this week, so here is a merry little stroll back in time, in our own Spy Tardis:

On a recent dark and stormy night I was about to go through the motions of whipping up an uninspired stir fry of chicken, peas, onions, carrots and some celery for crunch, but it didn’t seem like a warm, inviting meal for a raw winter day. It’s not that I harbor any illusions that coming home to our house every night is a journey to Martha-in-Wonderland, but sometimes I like to pretend that Mrs. Cleaver lives here. Even though I do not wear the high heels and the starched shirtwaist dress, I am wearing pearls along with the scarf, the sweater and the turtleneck. I bet even Mrs. Cleaver would be wearing woolies this week! And clad in her double-thick black leggings, Mrs. Cleaver would use these same ingredients to bake an amazing chicken potpie.

Here is something to keep in your freezer at all times of the year – a package of puff pastry. This is essential, Home Ec 101 information. Write it down. In cursive! Or tell Siri to remind you the next time you go to the Food Lion: “Buy puff pastry.”

I have used store-bought pie shells in the past because I am hopeless at home made. Everyone would politely shovel the chicken concoctions into their hungry little mouths. But the puff pastry made this pie an occasion! It was spectacular! It was as if Jiffy Pop Pop Corn had waved a magic wand over my chicken pie ordinaire, and puffed it upward and outward with importance and historical significance. Well, it looked very pretty when it came out of the oven, and was warmer and more comforting than that pedestrian chicken stir fry would have been.

I used the same ingredients that would have gone into the stir fry, with the addition of the puff pastry, and some chicken broth. And a little flour. I’ll trot out some other recipes for you later – but you need to keep it simple, for your own sanity. I read one recipe that wanted me to weave strips of pastry into a latticework on top of the pie. That was sheer foolishness. The pastry rises and looms like ocean cliffs – do not diminish that drama by getting all crafty. Use that time you would have been weaving pastry strips (like those long ago potholders) wisely. Dig out the latest Garden & Gun Magazine and plan your Mardi Gras strategy instead.

I boiled a boneless chicken breast, although if you have a leftover roasted chicken, you can pull off enough meat for a pie for two people. After boiling the breast, I chopped it up and shredded it – the howling cat was very grateful that my knife skills need some polishing, as some shreds flew off the cutting board into her KP area. I chopped up a couple of carrots, some celery, and half an onion, and tossed them into a frying pan with some butter for a few minutes. The onion should be translucent and fragrant. Then I added a handful of flour and 2 cups of chicken broth and the chicken. (Sometimes I skip the flour and the broth and just add Campbell’s Cream of Chicken Soup and a little milk.) After everything heated up and bubbled along nicely, I poured the mixture into my cute little Le Creuset baking dish. But a pie pan works just as well. (Remember, I am waiting for Mr. Cleaver, and want to make a favorable impression. Sometimes Ward has had a rough day down at the insurance office, or wherever it is that he works…)

Roll the thawed dough out on a floured surface, just to take out the creases. Then lay it on top of your pan, and with kitchen sheers, or even your office Fiskars, trim the excess dough, leaving about half an inch hanging over the edge of the pan, for drama.

Whisk an egg with a little water, and then brush it across the pastry. It will add color and a shiny surface to the pastry. Then remember to cut a few slits in the dough to let steam escape during the baking process.

Put the pastry-topped pan on top of a cookie sheet, and pop in a 375°F oven for about 30 to 35 minutes. See – you didn’t need to waste your time basket weaving at all. And now there is a little extra time to read a The Goldfinch, or chill the wine, or to watch last night’s Daily Show. Ward wouldn’t have enjoyed the spectacle of woven pastry as much as he is going to enjoy this huge, flying buttress of a chicken potpie.

I like The Pioneer Woman website. She has a droll sense of humor. I could imagine spending a little quality time with her out on the prairie. Although I do not have turmeric – so I will never know exactly what her pie tastes like: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2013/08/pot-pie/

Here’s Martha’s take, although she spends quality time worrying about the crust. “Pshaw!” I say! Worry about your time with young Theo Decker instead! http://www.marthastewart.com/891257/classic-chicken-potpie

“Promises and pie-crust are made to be broken.”
-Jonathan Swift

Food Friday: National Pizza Week

FF_NationalPizzaWeek

Please accept my deepest apologies for never having recognized (or celebrated) National Pizza Week before this year. What could I have been thinking? The second week of January is a time to revel in hot cheese, good sauce, toppings (or not) and fabulous crust (thin, thick or deep dish). Pizza, like cake, is the perfect food. Long live the pizzaterians!

I grew up in a household where going out for pizza was the supreme treat. We were even permitted to have a glass of orange soda! Of course, we only ate plain cheese pizza pie. My parents grew up in New Haven, home of Sally’s Apizza; in their hearts the home of the purest, best American pizza. They were stodgy, no nonsense New Englanders, by gum. Plain and simple pizza only, thank you; unadorned by unnecessary. What more could you possibly want or need? The slices at Pellicci’s (our hometown favorite Italian restaurant) were the size of formal dinner napkins, so my brother and I learned early on how to fold the molten lava slices into airplane shapes which fit nicely in our hungry, gaping maws. But it wasn’t until junior high and experiencing hot lunch in the cafeteria that I found out about pepperoni pizza. Holy smokes! What a revelation, and such beauteous gilding on the pizza lily!

Pizza is so very customizable. There are myriad variations on the pizza topping theme. First there are your basic Mozzarella cheese, meats, and veggies, excellent tomato sauce, a soupçon of garlic and a pinch or oregano. Other toppings may include regional favorites: barbeque, chicken, oysters, crayfish, shrimp, bacon, artichoke hearts and tuna. In Japan the favorite toppings are squid and a mayonnaise mixture of mayo, potato and bacon. A very fancy pizza was once concocted with caviar, lobster and crème fraiche. Hmm. Not up to Sally’s standards I’m afraid.

What do your pizza toppings say about you? Are you quirky, well-traveled, catholic, risk-taking and fearless? Bland, smug, uncurious, timid and hide-bound? Further trolling of the internets reveals that some people add these peculiar toppings (remember now, I am a snobby, unadventuous purist):
• Squash pizza (zucchini, summer squash and zucchini flowers)
• Macaroni and cheese (complete with breadcrumbs)
• Pesto
• BBQ sauce
• Alfredo sauce
• Bacon and egg
• Eggs Florentine
• Spinach and artichoke
• Tex-Mex pizza (pepper Jack cheese, salsa, beans and avocado
• Fig, prosciutto and chili jam
• Sweet potato and Kielbasa
• Lemon and smoke Mozzarella
• Arugula
• Ground lamb with an egg
• Prosciutto, basil and mozzarella
• Ricotta, prosciutto and mint
• Chicken and cranberry relish
• Brussels sprouts, roasted and shaved

A good idea comes from Serious Eats – try par-cooking vegetables to get eliminate some of the moisture and to intensify their flavor. Carmelized onions and peppers go a long way to making pizza a rich tapestry of woven, complimentary flavors, instead of just a slippery bunch of layers.

According to Pizza.com, “eating pizza once a week can reduce the risk of esophageal cancer.” But Elitedaily.com warns that “34% of the average American adult’s body fat comes from pizza.”

We still make pizza most Friday nights. When our kids were little, pizza wasn’t cause for celebration as it was in my distant youth. Their elementary school held pizza parties at the drop of every possible hat. They had it so often that it was de rigueur and not the least bit ritualistically special. They were growing accustomed to cold, cardboard-tasting (literally) Papa John’s and Domino’s pizzas. Heresy! We wanted them to know what real pizza tasted like.

It pushed our little Kenmore oven to the brink, firing it up to 500°F every Friday night for almost 20 years. We couldn’t achieve the blistering hot 600° and 800° temperatures that special wood burning or coal-fired pizza ovens reach, but we did our suburban best. And it was a great time to be spent together. They learned how to measure, how to wait for dough to rise, how to roll out circles (or amoebas) how to grate cheese, how to feed the dog indigestible pepperoni slices, how to draw pictures in flour (highly marketable art) and how to put up with their parents for a couple of hours every week. We also learned to appreciate getting blisters on the roofs of our mouths from gobbling down fresh, hot out-of-the-oven homemade pizza. No cardboard here! We never got good enough to toss the dough in the air, we still roll it out on the floured counter and we have only achieved the thin, crispy perfection of a crust a dozen or so times. Each week we hope. So many lessons learned from one dish.

This Friday we have some leftover Italian sausage, leftover meatballs and a fresh stick of pepperoni for a mélange of a meat topping. There is some basil growing on the windowsill, and we will toss a handful on top of the pizza when it emerges from the furnace of an oven. Our dough is rising in a bowl in the kitchen right this minute, waiting for pizza magic tonight. How about you?

“But magic is like pizza: even when it’s bad, it’s pretty good.”
― Neil Patrick Harris

And your pizza is nothing without good dough. Our friends at Food52 have many suggestions, but we like this recipe: https://food52.com/recipes/28124-homemade-pizza-dough

And if you want to adapt a pizza theme for every meal possible, visit this site:
http://www.buzzfeed.com/mackenziekruvant/pizza-power#.tsbvxZdMJ7

http://www.sallysapizza.com/

http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives/2011/09/a-pizza-snobs-approach-to-toppings.html

http://www.delish.com/recipes/cooking-recipes/unconventional-pizza-toppings#slide-1

http://www.taste.com.au/gallery/12+perfect+pizza+toppings,454?ref=,

Food Friday: Oh My Darling Clementine!

FF_Clementine_slide

The Doctor Who Christmas special, Last Christmas, caused a lively debate here: what is the difference between Clementines and tangerines? Maybe we had a little too much vacation down time and togetherness, plus we were avoiding the inevitability and disappointment of dismantling the Christmas decorations. Still – inquiring minds want to know.

In Doctor Who, Santa’s trademark gift is a tangerine in every stocking; a sweet, juicy orange jewel, the symbol of innocence. The Doctor scoffs at that gesture, declaring, “Nobody likes tangerines!” I remember growing up that we did have oranges in our stockings a few times, but never consistently. And Santa never left oranges or tangerines for my children. (Especially this year when we forgot to leave him Christmas cookies and milk! Payback!) Instead he tucked small books, and dolls, and toys, and tiny boxes of Legos, and candy canes (gasp!), and other quiet diversions into their capacious stockings, which would temporarily distract and charm the early rising children, so that the poor beleaguered parents could sleep a wee bit longer.

It seems to me that I had oranges in my lunch quite a lot as a child. I know tangerines were substituted a few times, but tangerines had more seeds than most oranges, and so I registered a few complaints. Did you ever believe that swallowing watermelon seeds would eventually result in catastrophe? I think we swallowed them only when dared, and suffered no consequences, and otherwise tried to enjoy a legit opportunity for spitting. And that was only in the summertime, sitting on the back porch, with an available sibling sitting nearby. No seed spitting was tolerated in our school cafeteria. Alas.

We did not have Clementines when I was a child. I don’t know if they are more fashionable, or more readily available, but they seem ubiquitous now. Maybe they were exotic and hideously expensive in New England back in the day. The packaging is very appealing, so much more so than a plastic sack o’oranges. I’ll haul home a small crate of Clementines with the idea that I can recycle it, fill it with potting soil and use it to start spring and get a jump on my summer garden. That has never happened, but I can assure you that I enjoy the fantasy every time.

Both the tangerines and the Clementines are varietals of the mandarin orange, which is slightly smaller than a standard orange. Nutritionally tangerines and Clementines are very similar – a 100-gram tangerine has 53 calories and a 100-gram Clementine has 47. There is more Vitamin C and Potassium in a Clementine, but more Magnesium and Calcium in a tangerine. I think the Clementine tastes sweeter – more like an orange than the watery tangerine. But both are easy to peel. The Clementine is seedless, however, which gives it the advantage. I can remember trying to peel oranges, and how hard it seemed sometimes, even if my mother scored the peel with a knife before tossing it in my lunchbox.

So listen up Santa, could you make the Clementine your signature gift now? The Doctor will approve: sweeter, no seeds and very easy to peel. Perfect for Tardis travel.

(McDonald’s has jumped on the Clementine bandwagon, and will be offering Clementines in Happy Meals now, on a seasonal basis. http://nrn.com/food-trends/mcdonald-s-introduces-clementines-happy-meal-option!)

Here is a nifty sounding recipe for an orange cake. I need to rethink my whole approach to baking, and get some metric scales and so I can start to bake the Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood way. They are the professional cooks and judges on a delightful BBC import on PBS on Sunday nights, just before Downton Abbey: The Great British Baking Show. It is deeelightful! This is my new guilty pleasure. Butter, cream, chocolate, English accents, bad teeth and crazy baking. Everyone is sweet, and determined, and thoughtful of others as they compete to become the Best Amateur Baker in Britain. I have never watched TV reality shows, but this is just wonderful. I got this first recipe from Mary Berry:

http://www.maryberry.co.uk/recipes/baking/whole-orange-spice-cake

Who would have thought of boiling a whole orange for an hour? We would have gone to the fridge and poured out some orange juice. But Mary is thrifty. She once commented that you should be economical, and save the leftover lemon wedge for a gin and tonic! Our kind of baker!

You can catch up on the first couple of episodes here: http://video.pbs.org/program/great-british-baking-show/

Clementine Cake from Nigella:

http://www.nigella.com/recipes/view/clementine-cake-2559

http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=28573

“we went into a market—they call it a grocery—and you can’t imagine. fruit brilliant as magazine photos. all kinds of different oranges, grapefruits, mandarins, some tiny clementines with a blue sticker—Morocco—they’ve come so far…”
– REINA MARÍA RODRÍGUEZ
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/242094

Food Friday: Hash Browns or Home Fries?

FoodFriday_January 12015_hashbrownsorhomefries

Regional differences in food can sometimes be subtle and confusing. I know I have ordered hash browns in restaurants and expected to get a crispy pile of tasty grated potato, when what I get is a side of cubed potatoes, mixed with browned onions and peppers. And vice versa. I guess I have used the term interchangeably – and that is wrong. Who knew? Even when I went exploring Martha’s brain trust I found hash brown recipes cheek and jowl with home fries recipes. Perhaps Connecticut, where I grew up, has a little problem differentiating between such deliciousness?

Dan Pashman, who has recently written a delightful book about food and eating, “Eat More Better”, http://www.sporkful.com/ posits that this is a crucial point – because how will you cure your New Year’s hangover without a good side dish of potatoes? I like both hash browns and home fries, because really, how could you not? But if I am struggling with a New Year’s Eve cheap-white-wine-induced hangover, please (silently) hand me a plateful of crispy butter-fried hash browns. Home fries just won’t cut it.

This is probably why McDonald’s is so popular in college towns. Their hash browns come as little oval patties, which don’t even require a fork, and have been deepfried and are hot enough to scald you into mindful awareness of your misadventures. I would suggest as a resolution that you cut back on the alcohol and boost your potato consumption this bright and shiny new year.

I prefer my hash browns pure and naked, with some salt and pepper, or if you are lucky enough, a dash of Lowry’s Seasoning Salt, which brings bliss and joy to everything it touches. (When we make potato pancakes with leftover mashed potatoes, a casual toss of Lowry’s adds a crisp, salty crust and life is again wonderful.) We fry our hash browns in butter, or sometimes with a little bacon fat if we are daring, though I have heard that some folks use duck fat! What a concept! If I can ever make myself part with the cash for an expensive jar of duck fat you can believe that hash browns will be the first dish I try out. The mind boggles!

We spent a few years early in our marriage preparing Betty Crocker boxed dehydrated (and subsequently rehydrated) hash browns on Sunday mornings, which were fine for the entry level of our cooking. (The college cafeteria was still a threatening recurrent memory…) But honestly, how hard is it to grate a potato? Today you can cheat and buy bags of pre-shredded hash browns in the refrigerated foods section of the grocery store, near the eggs and the inert plastic-bagged bagels, you lazy git. My new school of thought is to peel and boil the potatoes, allowing them to cool so I retain my fingerprints and my future life of crime, then grate the potatoes before frying them to crunchy, crispy nirvana in a non-stick pan with lots of butter. This eliminates the need for soaking the raw, grated potatoes in water to get the starches out. And it also eliminates that vision of grey, stringy potato shreds, which is much too sad and mournful to contemplate.

But this is in my dream world, where someone has iced up my Diet Coke, ironed the New York Times Style section, cooked and served the hash browns and bacon, and with attentive mercy has doled out a post-breakfast dark chocolate Milano cookie. The real world is less perfect, but no less fascinating. We had breakfast at the luncheonette in Green’s Pharmacy in Palm Beach the other morning. The cooks were silent and completely syncopated in their morning balletic grand jetés and glissades in their tiny communal cooking space. We watched as omelets were poured and twirled and folded in mid-air, scrambled eggs tossed lightly skyward, poached eggs landed lightly in small white bowls while the hash was browned and the bread toasted. A good quarter of the gridiron-sized griddle that was covered with browning, fragrant home fries, which smelled terrific as they sizzled and were spooned onto waiting dishes. The dinner plate-sized pancakes appeared, flipped, and disappeared with a repeating beat all their own. One could not be so rude as to intrude and beg for off-the-menu hash browns. The towering stack of crispy, salty bacon I gobbled up took care of that yen. And it was an powerful performance by grand masters.

P.S. We did not see any Kennedys having breakfast at the legendary Green’s as many gossips avow, but there were enough knuckle duster sparklers, Belgian shoes (sans socks), Lilly shifts and popped Lacoste collars mixed in with our rank and file ordinariness to make the visit to Green’s a worthwhile cultural (and culinary) event. Thank you Green’s Pharmacy! Your cooks’ skills are a virtuosic tour de force!

“What I say is that, if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.”
― A.A. Milne

http://southflorida.menupages.com/restaurants/greens-pharmacy/)

http://www.sporkful.com/tag/hash-browns/

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/skillet-hash-browns

http://www.imafoodblog.com/index.php/2009/03/31/oven-baked-hash-browns

http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2011/11/ultra-crispy-roast-potatoes-recipe.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/06/hash-browns-vs-home-fries_n_4538508.html

Food Friday: Holiday Breakfasts

FF_HolidayBreakfasts

If you are entertaining over the holidays, or have wayward college students wandering into the kitchen at all hours demanding more food, or even if you are going to be visiting family or friends over the holidays, it is a good idea to have some easy peasy breakfast recipes on hand that you can whip up with the minimum of fuss, or trips to the grocery store.

We always have day old French bread (in fact we have a collection of French bread in the freezer – we will never starve) and it always seems a sin and a shame to pitch it, so this is a delightful and economical way to be frugal consumers. And Best Beloved loves the added kick of the rum on these festive mornings…

Weekend French Toast

Serves 4
1 cup milk
1 pinch salt
3 brown eggs
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 generous dollop rum
1 tablespoon brown sugar
8 1/2-inch slices day old French bread

Whisk milk, salt, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract, rum and sugar until smooth. Heat a lightly buttered griddle or frying pan over medium heat. Soak bread slices in mixture until saturated. Cook bread on each side for a couple of minutes, until golden brown. Serve with maple syrup and powdered sugar. If you add some raspberries and whipped cream it will remind you of the Belgian Waffles from the World’s Fair in the 60s. Childhood bliss!

Here are Amanda and Merrill from Food52 preparing Weekend French Toast. http://www.food52.com/blog/796_weekend_french_toast

Also in our Christmas Cornucopia of Necessary Foodstuffs are

Sausage Balls!

The Tall One loveslovesloves these. Of course, he is a tall, lanky, long drink of water and can afford the calories. The rest of us will have to get by smelling the blissful clouds of temptation…

1 pound ground sausage (we like the “Hot” variety, just for a little morning kick)
3 cups Bisquick
4 cups grated Cheddar cheese
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

(We are never certain how many this recipe serves, but it seems to keep someone very satisfied…)

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a cookie sheet with miraculous parchment paper. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. (Living as we do in the South this might be as close to making snow balls as we come this year.) Form into 1-inch balls, shmushing the balls so they hold together. Place the balls on the cookie sheet and bake for 18 to 20 minutes. They should be golden brown. If you are the fussy sort with lots of spare time on your hands you can turn the balls halfway through the baking time. Drain on paper towels and stand back. They are excellent warm for breakfast, but the Tall One can attest to their delicious qualities cold, right out of the fridge. We bake them the day before Christmas and re-heat in the morning.

The folks at Food52 also have some clever breakfast ideas up their sleeves, and I have included their links below. You can always whip up a batch of cornbread for dinner, and repurpose it in the morning – it never lasts long around here. And while I will not share the Roman Punch with the visiting undergrads, I will probably enjoy a cup or two of its cheer when we are gathered around the Christmas tree, playing with our new igadgets and toys.

http://food52.com/recipes/1799_perfect_pancakes

http://food52.com/recipes/8195_doublecorn_corn_bread_with_fresh_thyme

http://food52.com/recipes/7635_nineteenth_century_roman_punch

“When the girl returned, some hours later, she carried a tray, with a cup of fragrant tea steaming on it; and a plate piled up with very hot buttered toast, cut thick, very brown on both sides, with the butter running through the holes in it in great golden drops, like honey from the honeycomb. The smell of that buttered toast simply talked to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cosy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one’s ramble was over and slippered feet were propped on the fender, of the purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleepy canaries.”

Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

Happy Holidays!

Food Friday: Home for the Holidays Baking

FF_ChristmasCookies2014

I don’t know if it is the great New England guilt instilled in me during my childhood, but it seems as if it is cheating and self-indulgent to buy Christmas cookies. It is fine fifty weeks out of the year to pick up a crackly package of Oreos, or Pepperidge Farm Milanos to have around as the little bit of a sweet after dinner. And it is good for your soul and the spirit of Juliette Gordon Low to buy from those cute, yet oh, so extortionist Girl Scouts peddling Thin Mints from wobbly card tables in front of the grocery store. (Although soon you are going to be able to stock up on Girl Scout cookies online. Waistbands will be let out and Fitbits will find themselves stashed in drawers!)

At the holidays we can exude all the confidence and patience of leisurely home bakers, who know their way around pastry bags and macarons, who can bake with cool expertise, with a keen eye for decorations and original flavor combinations. Cardamon anyone? But we don’t have to have Martha’s skills, or her penchant for perfection. We are welcoming the children home, with open arms. Home-baked cookies smell like home. At the end of a long day of work, after dinner and between loads of laundry and Scandal, we can start to lay in a temporary supply of the childhoods that shot out the door, faster than any of us expected. All these memories distilled into a few batches of slightly irregularly-shaped and sketchily decorated cookies, to show everyone how much we love them.

And then you must consider your gluten-free guests and newly significant others, and those who are swearing off chocolate, and those allergic to nuts, the sugar-free vegans and the merely sensible. I bought two pounds of butter yesterday in anticipation of baking, when there are just two human beings living in this house right now. Somehow the ratio just doesn’t seem right. We must bake for the approaching locust swarm.

We will be entertaining a houseful of young folk, thank goodness, who have been surviving on their own marginal cooking skills, with a generous side of cheap take out. I am hoping most of the fattening baking will be Hoovered up, if not appreciated and savored, with glancing thoughts of the second grade, and rolling cookie dough on the kitchen counter, learning to sift, learning to use cookie cutters. And the fine art of sprinkles!

Perhaps we will even be asked for recipes! I am definitely going to try those Bacon Fat Ginger Cookies I mentioned last week, as well as some old favorites. There is something very satisfying about a sheet of warm, crumbly shortbread. We might dandy it up this year by dipping some in melted chocolate, and indulging in a smackeral of dragées and aforementioned sprinkles.

I am also going to try some of Nigella’s Intense Chocolate cookies. They sound divine, and look divinely simple to prepare, too. Simple is key, especially when you suddenly veer from comfortably cooking for two, to preparing fuel for the endless maw that defines several recent college graduates and a couple of sleep-deprived new parents.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/intensechocolatecook_87336

I have been watching some episodes of The Great British Bakeoff which I cannot recommend too highly – it will start here on PBS under an Americanized name on Sunday, December 28, so do look for it. I have never been a reality show fan, but this has seized my attention and grabbed me by the lapels. It has gotten me thinking about balance. So instead of just sweet, over-the-top cookies, I will also be baking some savoury biscuits, to use the proper toffee-nosed parlance. Cocktails will be served, and crisp cheese biscuits are never amiss in my drawing room.

Simon Hopkinson’s Easy Cheesy Biscuits

http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/parmesan_biscuits_54963

Shortbread cookies

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/shortbread-cookies-recipe.html?oc=linkback

Here are all sorts of Christmas cookie possibilities for your own Christmas bakeoff: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/desserts/slideshow/cookies-cookies-cookies/?slide=1

Bacon Fat Ginger Cookies
http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017041-bacon-fat-gingersnaps

“They were almond cookies, although they could have been made of spinach and shoes for all I cared. I ate eleven of them, right in a row. It is rude to take the last cookie.”
― Lemony Snicket, Who Could That Be at This Hour?

Food Friday: Chicken Schnitzel

FF_ChickenSchnitzelslide

I’m not quite ready to get into all the fussy details of holiday baking just yet. Though I am reading the many, many stories that abound about cookies and other holiday bakes. I will probably fall back on the usual suspects: my grandmother’s gingersnaps, some butter cookies (I bought a new cookie press – and we know it is all about the toys!) and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, because years ago our children eschewed the somewhat healthier oatmeal raisin cookies. We have very strong opinions about food in our house. Here is a recipe I intend to try out – it sounds too outrageous to ignore: Bacon Fat Gingersnaps! http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017041-bacon-fat-gingersnaps

But back in the kitchen, I was searching for the solution to a non-holiday cooking dilemma. We gave up veal years ago. I suppose it is possible to overthink everything, but our views about how animals are raised have been validated by the newer proponents of humane treatment of animals. That being said, sometimes we missed the crispy goodness of weiner-snitzel and the richness of veal marsala, and made up our own recipes substituting chicken cutlets for the veal.

Last weekend I had half of a pound of thin chicken cutlets that I bought from the butcher’s shop, which was a pricey food investment. Otherwise you can buy thin boneless chicken breasts at the grocery store, and pound them thin, using up your pent-up holiday aggressions and a sturdy rolling pin. Sometimes we managed to meet our schnitzel-ly ideals, and sometimes we miss. We had dubbed our feeble and ever-evolving concoctions “Chicken Schnitzel”, thinking we were oh, so clever. And with the expensive butcher cutlets I did not want to chalk up another miss, so I rooted around the Internet looking for a recipe that would save the day. I typed “chicken schnitzel” into my browser, and imagine my surprise when Thomas Keller’s recipe for “Panko-Coated Chicken Schnitzel” was the first that bounded into sight! More validation!

Sometimes I am a lackadaisical cook. I can go overboard and over-bread the chicken, so reflexively, among the misses there has been a long-running series of chicken misadventures. I have tried preparing schnitzel-ly chicken that I soaked in milk and then dredged in salt and pepper seasoned flour before frying. It was light, but it wasn’t a crispy schnitzel. Sometimes I have used plain breadcrumbs, or seasoned breadcrumbs. Sometimes I dipped the chicken in mayonnaise and then coated it with smashed up canned fried onion rings. Sometimes I read the backs of too many packages.

Thomas Keller’s recipe for Chicken Schnitzel was everything I hoped for. The brown butter and lemon caper sauce was perfect for adding a sweet nuttiness, without wilting the snappy panko crunch. We also had a side of creamy risotto and a small green salad along with candlelight and cheap white wine. And it was fast and easy to prepare – the cooking time for the chicken was only about 15 minutes. The risotto, which I can never gauge correctly, took about half an hour. Luckily, for once I had factored that in, and actually prepared it ahead of the chicken. It sat warming on the stove while I flipped the cutlets with skill, aplomb and many splatters. Add this to your easy peasy file: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/panko-coated-chicken-schnitzel

Next week we will get to holiday baking, really.

“Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.”
― M.F.K. Fisher

Food Friday: Love the Leftovers

FF_leftoversslide

And here we are, the day after Thanksgiving. Post-parade, post-football, post-feast. Also post-washing up. Heavens to Betsy, what a lot of cleaning up there was. And the fridge is packed with mysterious little bundles of leftovers. We continue to give thanks that our visiting college student is an incessant omnivore. He will plow systematically through Baggies of baked goods, tin foiled-turkey bits, Saran wrapped-celery, Tupperwared tomatoes and wax papered-walnuts.

It was not until the Tall One was in high school that these abilities were honed and developed with ambitious ardor. His healthy personal philosophy is “Waste not, want not.” A sentiment I hope comes from generations of hardy New Englanders as they plowed their rocky fields, dreaming of candlelit feasts and the iPhones of the future.

I have watched towering constructions of food rise from the plate as he constructs interesting arrangements of sweet, sour, crunchy and umami items with the same deliberation and concentration once directed toward Lego projects. And I am thankful that few of these will fall to the floor and get walked over in the dark. Of course, now there is the dog, Luke, so nothing much makes it to the floor.

I have read that there may have been swan at the first Thanksgiving. How very sad. I have no emotional commitment to turkeys, and I firmly belief that as beautiful as they are, swans are mean and would probably peck my eyes out if I didn’t feed them every scrap of bread in the house. Which means The Tall One would go hungry. A veritable conundrum.

The Pilgrim Sandwich is the Tall One’s magnum opus. It is his turducken without the histrionics. It is a smörgåsbordwithout the Swedish chef. It is truly why we celebrate Thanksgiving. Please keep in mind that the dark ooze in the illustration of the sandwich above this story is not my rich, homemade gravy, made after many hours of precise turkey basting. It is barbecue sauce, from a bottle, without which, no decent, self-respecting Pilgrim Sandwich (in our house) is devoured. And pray note the unique side dishes: corn bread and a spare pig-in-blanket. Round One of Leftovers vs. The Tall One.

This is way too fancy and cloying with fussy elements – olive oil for a turkey sandwich? Hardly. You have to use what is on hand from the most recent Thanksgiving meal – to go out to buy extra rolls is to break the unwritten rules of the universe. There are plenty of Parker House rolls in your bread box right this minute – go use them up!
http://www.rachaelray.com/recipe.php?recipe_id=4202

This is a recipe for simpletons. Honestly. And was there Muenster cheese on the dining room table yesterday? I think not.
http://www.favfamilyrecipes.com/2012/11/pilgrim-sandwiches.html

And if you are grown up and sophisticated, here is the answer for you. Fancy Thanksgiving leftovers for a grown up brunch:http://www.saveur.com/article/Menu/A-Brunch-For-The-Day-After-Thanksgiving

Here are The Tall One’s ingredients for his signature Pilgrim Sandwich:
Toast (2 slices)
Turkey (2 slices)
Cranberry Sauce (2 teaspoons)
Gravy (2 tablespoons)
Mashed Potatoes (2 tablespoons)
Stuffing (2 tablespoons)
Barbecue Sauce (you can never have too much)
Bacon (if there is some hanging around)
Mayonnaise (if you must)
Lettuce (iceberg, for the crunch)
Celery stalk (more crunch)
Salt, pepper

And now I am taking the dog for a run before I consider making my own sandwich.

“The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found. “
-Calvin Trillin

Food Friday: Thanksgiving Countdown!

FF_ThanksgivingCountdown

You have a lot to do in the next week – so we are trying keeping things simple. Use this streamlined checklist of prep work to ensure you have a great (and uneventful) Thanksgiving dinner. (We are not cooking our Thanksgiving this year, so I am going to coast. I will volunteer to hold the baby. Or to wash dishes.)

Have you ordered a turkey? If you get a frozen turkey, don’t forget to allow for time for it to thaw! It can take 4 or 5 days for a turkey to defrost in your refrigerator. Amazing! Not thawing the turkey ahead of time would be almost as bad as cooking the turkey with the giblets still in the bag, still inside the bird! I have a friend who really did that. It was her first Thanksgiving cooking on her own, but we never let her forget it. Do not replicate her experience, please! Do not become the stuff of legend.

Monday:

Make your cranberry relish and stash it in the fridge. The general wisdom is that homemade tastes best, and it is even better for having been prepared a couple of days in advance: it macerates. That is, of course, unless yours is a family that values the grooves left in the cranberry jelly from the Ocean Spray tin can.

Tuesday:

Clean out spaces in the fridge and the freezer for the food that is coming in for prep, and for the inevitable leftovers. It is a good time to sort through those sell by dates and recoil with horror! Full disclosure: I just looked in our fridge and threw out two yogurts that expired on September 28 and a sour cream from October 7.

What are you using for a centerpiece? Flowers? Pumpkins? The turkey? Do you have someone to craft beauteous place cards? Many delightful quiet hours can be whiled away with some three by five cards, felt, Elmer’s glue and pinking shears. And do you have enough chairs? Will you need to improvise a children’s table?

Check your linens. One of the best hints I ever garnered from Martha Stewart (or one of her many minions) is to take the tablecloth out of the washing machine and let it air dry for just a little while before putting it, damp, on the table. Now enlist one of your reluctant underlings to help you stretch the wrinkles out, and then let gravity do its work. Wrinkle free and kind for the environment! This week I read an ode to Downey Wrinkle Releaser Plus on Slate. I am going to give it a whirl the next time I get all of the laundry off the dining room table and actually sit down to a meal.
http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/11/19/wrinkle_releaser_works_downy_wrinkle_releaser_plus_is_a_miracle_product.html
You’ll still have to iron the napkins, though.

Are you starting stuffing from scratch or are you using store bought Pepperidge Farm stuffing? If you are doing scratch, don’t forget to cut up some bread (dare I suggest Pepperidge Farm Original White bread?) a day or two before Thursday, so it has time to get good and stale.

Wednesday:

Check your platters, dinner plates, wine glasses, water glasses, serving pieces and silver. Assign silver polishing duties to the young and the restless. Set the table on Wednesday night. And mark it off your To Do List.

Bake pies. Or cakes. Or fancy trifle or ambrosial artisan pear tarts.

If you are brining your turkey, get cracking. It needs to be in the brine overnight.

Make the mashed potatoes. It is much better to know all the peeling and smashing is done. Stash them in the newly spacious and clean fridge, but don’t forget to reheat them tomorrow! I had a dream about mashed potatoes the other night. Honest. I woke up chattering that I needed half a potato per person. Luckily I did not wake up the dog.

Thursday:

Be sure to chill plenty of white wine. Or apple cider for the young ‘uns.

Prepare the stuffing. We like sausage, onion and celery added to the bread, doused liberally with chicken broth, and sprinkled with celery seed and black pepper.

Stuff the bird.

Roast the turkey. We assign the basting duties, which occur every half hour, to the Tall One. He is our favorite Master Baster.

Side dishes: beans, squash, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, Brussels sprouts, kale, salad, corn, creamed spinach, pearl onions, cranberry jelly (or relish), rutabagas, rolls. Don’t forget the rolls!

Relish tray: gherkins, carrots, celery, olives, radishes. You have the dish, so why not revisit the 1950s?

Make gravy.

Light the candles.

Get your young IT department to make a playlist of songs for your iPhone and your Jambox that everyone will enjoy – this is a multigenerational event, so play fair. Or find a Pandora station that has an eclectic mix of old and new – just as long as no one starts playing Christmas carols yet!

If you are serving coffee after the meal get your coffee pot ready to go before you sit down. You might get all comfy and chatty after all the delish food and wine and pie piled with soporific whipped cream, and you wouldn’t want to forget to brew coffee.

And don’t forget that the New York Times says it is fine and dandy to cut corners. So try to enjoy yourself. Put down the wooden spoon and join your guests. Enjoy the candle light, the company and the moment.

Gobble, gobble.

Happy Thanksgiving.

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
– John Fitzgerald Kennedy

For your vegetarians: http://cooking.nytimes.com/68861692-nyt-cooking/445045-a-well-vegetarian-thanksgiving

Food Friday: Thanksgiving Smackdown; Crescent Rolls or Parker House?

FF_CrescentorParker

Which do you prefer, crescent rolls or Parker House rolls? Or are you a cornbread kind of family? It is fascinating how holiday rituals vary from family to family. Do you fancy white meat or dark? Do you cook stuffing inside the turkey, or are you like me and err on caution’s side, and also prepare a sanitary, dry-as-sawdust pan of stuffing that goes in the oven for an hour after the cooked bird has emerged? Do you wait, ghoulishly, for the signs of salmonella to appear after everyone has gorged themselves on bowls of in-the-bird stuffing? I always picture elderly relatives gasping for breath and falling to the floor in agonizing, writhing, intestinal pain. I might have to research the symptoms a little more assiduously.

So far, no one has succumbed to food poisoning, or salmonella, at one of our Thanksgivings. There have been the occasional awkward and/or tipsy comments, but if the candlelight is dim enough you can roll you eyes, have another piece of pie and ignore the gaff until the guests have gone home. And then you can relive the moments that become family legend while washing up the good china. We mostly manage to side-step political commentary, and keep up a steady patter of latest genius baby stories, or harken back to the good old days when Dad was six, and he smacked Uncle Bob on the head with a toy gun, and discovered that it takes a lot of Hollywood magic to knock someone out cold…

Do you cook a turkey for Thanksgiving? Or did you spring from the loins of an iconoclast family that cooks ham, or goose, or Spaghetti Carbonara? Do you sneer at green beans and embrace roasted Brussels sprouts? Russets or sweet potatoes for you? Do you serve Champagne or a slighter cooler than room temperature Beaujolais Nouveau? Do you baste or do you brine? Do you have Thanksgiving dinner at noon? Have you ever had to cater to a vegetarian at this carnivore delight of a meal? Sit-down or buffet? Football or X-Files marathon? Do you plan weeks ahead, or do you buy the ingredients on Wednesday and hope for the best? And do you cook all day, and finally sit down at six, exhausted?

According to Wednesday’s New York Times we should have gotten cracking weeks ago. We should have assessed our platter collection, counted heads, calculated pounds of turkey according to the number of guests, and planned the menu and started collecting meat drippings from which to make the gravy. But they also endorse the notion that you should not be a martyr to the Thanksgiving process; “cut corners” says the venerable New York Times. So if you pick up some Pepperidge Farm dinner rolls or pop open a couple of cans of Pillsbury crescent rolls, no one will be the wiser.

Here is a handy dandy checklist for your Thanksgiving countdown: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/12/dining/a-thanksgiving-checklist.html?_r=0

Crescent Rolls

http://www.marthastewart.com/333830/buttery-crescent-rolls#Thanksgiving%20Bread%20and%20Roll%20Recipes|/274695/thanksgiving-bread-and-roll-recipes/@center/276949/everything-thanksgiving|333830

Parker House Rolls

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/bobby-flay/parker-house-rolls-recipe2.html

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/parker-house-rolls

Pull-Apart Butter Rolls

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/blog/2009/11/12/the-one-thing-i-have-to-bake-every-thanksgiving-pull-apart-butter-buns/

Cornbread

http://www.nytimes.com/video/dining/100000003221154/brown-butter-skillet-corn-bread.html

Sides

http://gardenandgun.com/article/guide-sides

“My mom makes something called green pie, which I thought was a delicacy that many people only had at Thanksgiving, but it turns out it was just Jell-O with whipped cream on it. And it’s delicious.”
Bobby Moynihan

Note: Since we are traveling, we will be bringing a tray of pre-fab Pepperidge Farm Parker House rolls with us. But on a very nice, new platter, which will be a hostess gift. And a flock of Beaujolais Nouveau. ‘Tis the season!