Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year and Less Is More



Happy New Year everyone.

I have never been one to make New Year Resolutions. If something needs fixing, I fix it. No sense waiting around for some number on the calendar.

But this year is different. It's the second decade of a new century. Seems like a good time for change, no?

So without further ado, here is my New Year's Resolution:

In 2010 I will do less.

Less:

Spending, eating, drinking, criticizing, judging, sleeping, cleaning, (oops, how did that get in there, oh bother, I'll just keep it there).

Less worrying, driving, talking, yelling and TV watching.

With all this less, I will have more time to:

Listen, love, laugh, walk, exercise, recycle, garden, do yoga and read.

What will you do less of? And how will that give you more?

I am bloated and full and listless from all the holiday eating and drinking. On top of that I have spent 22 hours in the car in the past 5 days. Blah.

This anti-bloat drink is from Rodale's Flat Belly Diet. I find it refreshing, light, tasty and a natural cleanse for the body.

Sassy Water: (makes one day's worth of fluid intake for one person - 8.5 cups)

8.5 cups of water (2 liters)
1 medium cucumber, peeled and sliced thinly
1 lemon, sliced thinly
12 mint leaves
1 teaspoon ginger, freshly grated

Mix it all up in big pitcher and refrigerate over night to meld flavors. Drink for 4 days, avoiding caffeine, alcohol and carbonated beverages.

A Cook's Notes: The hardest thing in the world for a cook to do is diet. So I'm not going to diet even though the scale mandates it. I will make changes to my eating lifestyle (doesn't that sound better than deprivation through dieting?)

Look for lower calorie, more healthful recipes in the coming year from this Good Cook. To our health!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tracking Santa Via NORAD




Even though my littles are now kidadults, we still track Santa with the help of NORAD

Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night. See you next year.

The Good Cook

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Quick and Easy Gift Idea - Christmas Bark

My family loves Christmas Bark. The combination of dark and white chocolate and peppermint is undeniably good. Bark is not only delicious, it is easy to make (and expensive to buy premade!).

Need a quick gift idea? Make this bark, package in festive plastic bags made for candy, tie with a ribbon and Viola! Plastic candy bags are available at cake and candy supply stores and are priced at around 5 cents each. How easy and cost effective is that?

Christmas Bark: (makes 1 tray - or about a pound of candy)

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 1/2 cups white chocolate morsels
4 candy canes, crushed

Line a cookie sheet with parchment or wax paper.

In a double boiler, melt the semi-sweet chocolate morsels. Stir until smooth. Pour the melted chocolate onto the parchment paper and using an offset spatula spread it out. Let cool and harden completely. (about an hour)

Unwrap candy canes and place in a plastic ziplock bag. Crush with a mallet or rolling pin. Set aside.

In a double boiler, melt white chocolate, stirring until completely melted and smooth. Quickly spread the white chocolate over the semi-sweet chocolate. Don't work it too much, you don't want to remelt the semi-sweet chocolate.

Quickly press the broken candy canes into the warm white chocolate. Let cool completely, then break into pieces. Store in an airtight tin.


Monday, December 21, 2009

The Reason For The Season and Beefy Doggie Treats


Amid all the hype of the season, lights, shopping, cooking, wrapping, baking, eating, drinking, celebrating.. sometimes we tend to forget the reason for the season:




This is my nativity scene. I did not have a creche for many years as I searched for what I thought was the perfect scene.

The scene that suited me.

I did not like the multi colored ceramics that are popular. With Angel wings spread wide and luxurious robes.

I absolutely did not like the "kid" scenes with big eyed, cherub looking children depicting the Holy Couple.

I didn't want anything too big or too colorful or too.. I don't know.... holier than thou? I wanted what I perceived to be the true feeling of His birth.. simple, humble, understated, yet exalted...

I found this set a few years ago and I fell in love with it.

It is by Willow Tree and it suits me and my space.

It sits on the mantle of the fireplace in my kitchen. Notice all the animals. According to Christian legend Christ was born in a manger, surrounded by God's most humble beings.

In that spirit, I make these "cookies" for my animal:

Holly Bear's Bones: makes about 4 dozen medium sized "bones"

1 pound ground beef
2 eggs, beaten
3 cups (plus) whole wheat flour (you can use all purpose, but whole wheat is better for the dog)
1 cup quick style oats
1 cup water

In a blender or food processor combine beef and beaten eggs until well blended. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl combine flour and oats. Gradually mix in beef and mix with your hands (or an wooden spoon) until well blended
Add water and stir to form a sticky dough
Divide dough into 2 balls
Knead each dough ball on a well floured surface until no longer sticky. About 2 minutes, adding more flour as necessary until no longer sticky.
Roll out dough on a floured board to 1/2 inch.
Cut into shapes that your dog will love. (okay - you love)
Bake at 350 degrees F on a lightly greased baking sheet for 1 hour. Cool on a rack and store at room temperature in a tin with a lid.

A Cook's Notes: Holidays can be a stressful time for pets. Routines are broken, attention can be at a minimum. Make sure you include your beloved pets in your celebrations - after all, animals were there at the first Christmas - they deserve special attention at yours.




Saturday, December 19, 2009

Answers to Your Questions and Yorkshire Pudding Recipe

Whitney Lee said...

I loooove risitto although I don't cook it often because it requires my continuous presence. My favorite is to add a little saffron. It gives it such a rich taste and a pretty color:)
How often do you cook no meat dinners or vegetarian twists on old classics? My husband is a meat and potatoes kind of guy, and I'd love to move away from meat at every dinner.

TGC: Whitney, I have a 2X2X2X1 rule when it comes to family dinners. 2 poultry a week, 2 non-meat, 2 fish and 1 diner's (or cooks) choice. It is easy to remove meat from so many favorites, pot pie, shepherd's pie, pizza. If you are not strictly vegetarian, eggs are always a great way to make a meal. Omelets and soufflees come to mind. I'm not a big fan of soy products or "fake" meat or poultry, I'd much rather just go with a meatless meal. Vegetable fritata's, falafel, grilled cheese with tomato or vegetable soup. Meatless spagetti sauce, tacos with beans instead of ground meat, just use your imagination!

Nancy said...

My question: Have you taken cooking classes or attended a cooking school?

TGC: Yes Nancy, I have done both (and continue to take classes). I earned a certificate in Principles of Cooking - which taught me the classic techniques of cooking (think sauteeing, whisking, frying, roasting, searing, etc) and I earned a second certificate in Intensive Principles of Cooking, Applied - which concentrated on using classic techniques and applying them to contemporary cooking. One of the most important and beneficial classes I have ever taken was a knife handling and butchering class. I have also taken classes in Bread making, Soup and Stock preparation, Pastry, Canning / Preserving and Cheese Making. I have attended classes in Locavorism and am travelling to Italy in 2010 to the Amalfi Coast for a week of cooking lessons. (my dream come true). I am always looking for new and interesting classes. In February I have a cooking class with the former executive chef of Bouley of NYC, Chef Cesar Ramirez.. I believe a good cook never stops learning new and innovative ways to prepare food!

Phoebe Miriah Kirby said...

I have a question!

Do you buy your cooking utensils brand new, or is secondhand fine with you (i.e. thrift store shops)?
I need all the advice I can get. I can't even afford decent pots and pans. Also! No room to put them anywhere!

TGC: Phoebe, Of course! Reuse, recycle. Look for good quality, clean products. Don't buy interior scratched pans (outside scratches are okay) - inside scratches and your food will stick everytime. Antique (older than 50 years) knives are an especially wonderful find as they are generally carbon steel. Very easy to sharpen and they hold an edge. Don't let a little rust bother you - this can be sharpened away. Look for a solid handle, where the steel goes all the way through the handle and has at least 3 rivets.

Plates, serving bowls, platters, etc.. all fun to collect. Who says you have to eat off the same boring plate everyday? Mix and match and have fun. I have a favorite tea cup that was my grandmother's - a full set of one. I drink tea out of it all the time.. Wine glasses, ditto - who needs little markers to tell which glass is theirs if they are all different. Be daring. Be brave. Create your own unique style as special and as eclectic as you.

buffalodick said...

Your All-Clad comment is excellent! I don't have them, but as an engineering/metals guy all my career- they would be my choice(if 1200 bucks fell on my head right now!) My Wusthof knives are my go to weapon of choice! I can stir with a knife- can you cut with a spoon? HeeHeeHee...

TGC: Buffalodick, I can cut butter and soft cheeses with a wooden spoon :-)

You are absolutely right about high quality knives. Dull knives are more dangerous than sharp.

Unknown Mami said...

Is there anything that you would not cook?

TGC: Unknown Mami, Cat, Dog, sweetbreads (aka brains). I think that's about it.

Cousin B said...

Love all these questions and answers! thanks. I enjoy your blog. It's so informative, and I really enjoy your recipes! You are very generous to share so many with us! I would LOVE to get your Yorkshire pudding recipe!
Oh, and enter me please!

TGC: Cousin B, Here's your Yorkshire Pudding Recipe:

You will need to be roasting beef for this recipe.

Remove the roast from the oven 25 minutes before you are ready to serve. Yorkshire Pudding MUST be cooked in the beef fat and drippings or you are just making popovers. (if you're not making roast beef, use butter where ever the fat is used)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

4 tablespoons roast beef pan drippings

2 eggs

1 cup milk

1 cup flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

Divide drippings between 6 big muffin cups and swirl to coat. Place in oven until sizzling hot (about 5 minutes) Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, milk, flour and salt together. Quickly, divide the batter between the hot muffin tins (fill about 2/3 full). Bake 25 to 30 minutes until puffed and golden. DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR TO THE OVEN WHILE THEY ARE BAKING. Serve piping hot!

Debbie said...

I love to cook but have a terrible problem being able to duplicate a dish I've made in the past. I either can't remember how I did it or can't find the recipe. Do you have this problem?

TGC: Debbie, I keep a notebook on hand that I jot down ingredients and quantities as I add them - that's when I'm testing a recipe of my own. I can then edit it after we eat it, such as, "too spicy, add less XXX" or increase cooking time by... that type of thing. I also keep a three ring binder with marked dividers (cookies, cakes, salads, meats, sides, etc...) that I file my favorite recipes in. I tear the pages right out of cook books, magazines, etc.. I also write in cook books. I'm an organized mess!

Here are a couple questions that came directly to my email:

Question: What are three things you always have in your refrigerator?

TGC: Eggs, Heavy Cream and Butter. You can make heaven on earth if you have these three ingredients.

Question: What do you do with the chicken or vegetable broth you have left over when a recipe calls for only a 1/2 cup or so.

TGC: Freeze the leftover broth in an ice cube tray. Then once it is frozen, pop out and store in a plastic bag in the freezer. 2 cubes equals 1/4 cup.

Question: What do you do with leftover wine?

TGC: I have no idea. That has never happened to me. :-)

If you are in the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast part of the USA this weekend, hunker down from this storm, stay off the roads, make something fabulous to eat and share, stay warm and be safe!

With Love,

The Good Cook

The Good Cook Apron Giveaway Winner



And the winner is:


Phoebe Miriah Kirby at On Starting Over and Being Happy

Congratulations Phoebe and Merry Christmas. Your apron should arrive this week (before Christmas)

Thanks to everyone for playing along! I'll be posting my answers to your questions this weekend.

The Good Cook

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mystery Item Revealed and Sherri Cookies




Some of you knew exactly what this is... some of you, not so much.

The answer is:

It is a tool you use to pull out and push in hot oven racks. The perfect gift for a kitchen gadget junkie like me! Thank you bouncing baby boy!





We are expecting our second snow storm of the season this weekend. Yeah!! 5 to 10 inches of the white stuff. I like nothing more than to curl up on weekends like this with a hot cup of something and some of these cookies. There is no Sherry in them - they are named after a little poodle TBHITW's family had when he was a little. The cookies look like brown poodle curls (to TBHITW and his family anyway)... I just like them because they are decadent and full of chocolate and coconut.

NO BAKE Sherri Cookies (makes about 3 dozen, depending on size)

1 stick unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk
6 tablespoons cocoa

Melt butter and mix everything together in a saucepan over medium heat. But DON'T boil. Kep stirring to dissolve sugar and chocolate. Just as the mixture begins to bubble, take off heat.




Stir in and mix until well coated:
3 cups oatmeal (quick style)
2 cups coconut




Spoon out by tablespoon full onto wax paper to cool and dry. Store in an airtight tin at room temperature - that is if you have any left to actually store.

A Cook's Notes:

You will want to be exceedingly diligent about licking the spoon to get up all that chocolately goodness.






Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Question for You


In my life I have known both rags and riches. I am thankful for both as they have made me who I am today.

In my early twenties and thirties finances were very tight and there were always too many days between paychecks.

I have known both single parenthood and dual parenthood - where I was the only one contributing to the welfare of both myself and child and later, with a competent, responsible partner.

In later and recent years, finances improved. Savings accounts became a reality. Modest, yearly vacations became doable. Extras, once only dreamed of, became within reach.

This leads me to today's post.

Yesterday I was in my favorite market doing my holiday shopping. Mind you, I was not shopping for tonight's dinner or staples for the kitchen cupboard. I was shopping for holiday extras. Cheeses, breads, ingredients for special hors' doerves. A little crab, even some caviar. Champagne.

When I finally arrived at the checkout counter and began to unload my delicacies I became aware of a middle aged woman and her son, about college age, waiting in line behind me. I couldn't help overhearing their conversation. The woman was crying (not loudly) and was saying to the young man, "I'm doing the best that I can, I'm sorry"... the young man with her was rubbing her shoulder and assuring her that "it was okay, mom.. it's going to be alright".. She was clearly trying to hide her anguish.. to no avail.

At one point, the woman walked away as the clerk continued to ring up my purchases. I couldn't help myself and asked the young man, "is that your mom?" He said, "yes". I then asked if they were having a hard time of things during this holiday season. He responded by shrugging his shoulders and said, "yeah, a little bit".

My heart broke. I looked down at their cart. Oatmeal. Pasta. Rice. Bread. Milk. Not a specialty item in sight. I looked at my purchases...

My question for you, my readers... What would you have done if you were me?

Mystery Item and Pureed Parsnips


My youngest bouncing baby boy is a sophomore in high school. The school is very nice and they have an excellent selection of elective classes to choose from.

One of his electives is a CSI class. It is set up as a crime lab and they learn various crime solving techniques such as finger print analysis, blood splatter analysis, ballistics and hand writing analysis. The final exam in this class is set up as a crime scene and the students will have to collect evidence and "solve" the crime.

Another one of his electives is wood shop. Does anyone remember wood shop? I think there is a special place in heaven for a teacher who teaches woods. Imagine 20 or so teenagers filling a class room stuffed with electric saws, drills, presses and what ever else one needs to work with wood.

Anyway, my bouncing baby boy brought me home his first completed wood shop project. Does anyone know what this is?



Care to venture a guess? Hint: you use it in the kitchen

I'll post the answer tomorrow, in the meantime, I'm just thankful the CSI class doesn't send home samples....

Pureed Parsnips: (serves 4)

Parsnips are beautiful, sweet and full of fiber and nutrients. Too often they are over looked because people just don't know what to do with them. Try them pureed for a nice change - you'll make them over and over again.

4 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
water
1 tablespoon butter
3 tablespoons heavy cream (or half and half or milk)
Salt
Pepper
Nutmeg (pinch)

Place peeled and diced parsnips in a microwavable casserole with lid. Pour about 3/4 inch water into casserole. Cover and microwave about 10 minutes or until they are very soft.

Drain any remaining water from parsnips and place in a food processor. Process using on/off pulses until fine. Add butter and cream. Process until smooth. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Enjoy hot.



Don't forget, you still have time to enter The Good Cook Apron Giveaway:


Do you have any questions you are just dying to ask The Good Cook? Pose your question in the comment field by Friday, December 18th. and be entered in a random drawing to win a Good Cook apron - delivered just in time for the holidays! I will answer your questions in a future post - but will announce the apron winner Saturday, December 19th.

If you don't have a question, just leave an "ENTER ME" comment and you will be included in the drawing.

Comments must be posted by 12:00 MIDNIGHT EST (eastern standard time) Friday, December 18th.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

FAQ, a Giveaway and Risotto


Because I have absolutely nothing else to write about I'm going to answer all the questions I've been asked over the last few months. Here, for the first time in public is:

Frequently Asked Questions of The Good Cook:

Q: When did you first begin cooking?

A: The first thing I ever cooked was an omelet, I was about 9 years old and was fascinated at how the eggs puffed up as they cooked. I was so intent on watching this phenomenon that I burned it.

Q: How often do you cook now?

A: Everyday. At the minimum I cook 3 full meals a day. More if I am giving lessons or have a catered event.

Q: How often do you go to the market?

A: Everyday. Sometimes I go to several different markets depending on what I need or the season.

Q: What do you like to read?

A: Besides cookbooks and food magazines I read industry journals, food reviews and restaurant reviews.

Q: Where do you get your recipe ideas?

A: I get ideas for recipes from all over - from the market when I see what is local and available, from old recipes that I can put a new spin on, from other cooks and of course there are wonderful "old" family recipes that need no spin or improvement.

Q: Do you ever make something that is inedible?

A: Every good cook has made something that is not that good. But inedible? No.

Q: You must have a fantastic kitchen. What is your favorite piece of kitchen equipment?

A: I have a very large kitchen that is well equipped (I'm a kitchen gadget junky) but my favorite kitchen "gadget" is a wooden spoon. You can use a wooden spoon for just about anything. That, and my very own two hands.

Q: In your opinion, what is the best brand of pot and pans?

A: All-Clad. Hands down. Notice, there are no ads for All-Clad on my blog. I say this freely and clearly. All-Clad.

Q: What is your favorite thing to cook?

A: I like to cook just about everything. I love the smell of something roasting in the oven. I adore making bread. If I had to choose just one thing I would say sauces. I like the technical aspects of putting together an elegant sauce. Bernaise, Hollandaise, Bechamel, Mole, you name it. And of course I live for the look on people's faces when they get that first taste of a perfectly concocted, seasoned sauce.. like they just had a little spoonful of heaven.

Q: Do you have any food traditions during this season?

A: Christmas Eve we will have a late dinner of Prime Rib, Yorkshire pudding, roasted potatoes, sticky carrots and Champagne. Christmas morning we will have Eggs Benedict and Mimosas for breakfast. This has been our tradition for years. Even when my kidadults were littles, of course they didn't get Champagne - they drank sparkling grape juice out of champagne glasses.

Do you have any questions you are just dying to ask The Good Cook? Pose your question in the comment field by Friday, December 18th. and be entered in a random drawing to win a Good Cook apron - delivered just in time for the holidays! I will answer your questions in a future post - but will announce the apron winner Saturday, December 19th.

If you don't have a question, just leave an "ENTER ME" comment and you will be included in the drawing.

Comments must be posted by 12:00 MIDNIGHT EST (eastern standard time) Friday, December 18th.

Risotto (serves 4 as a side or 2 as a main course)

1 cup arborio rice (risotto)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, minced
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth, very hot (about)
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup heavy cream

Heat oil in large, heavy saucepan. Add shallot and rice and cook for about 3 minutes. Rice and shallot will be transparent. Add a ladle of hot broth (about 3/4 cup) and continue to stir and cook until broth is absorbed. Add another ladle and repeat until all the broth is used and rice is Al Dente. Risotto should be "loose" - not too dry or sticky. Remove from heat and stir in cheese, butter and cream. Add salt and pepper to taste.

If rice is too tight (sticky), add a little more hot broth. You want a nice, loose, chewy risotto. Serve immediately.


A Cook's Notes: You can add steamed, chopped asparagus, sauteed mushrooms, or my favorite, shaved Black Truffles to the risotto. Use your imagination. I serve Risotto as a main course with a small mixed green salad on the side. Yum... comfort food!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Giving and Oatmeal, Cherry & White Chocolate Cookies



I love this time of year.

Lights, music. Good cheer and fellowship. It seems that everywhere you go you hear the heart felt mantra of "Happy Holidays"

But there is an underbelly to all this holiday cheer. There are millions of Americans who are out of work and cannot afford the very basics of life - heat, home and food - let alone the extra expenses of the holidays.

I know many charitable organizations are also feeling the financial pinch as corporate sponsors and ordinary citizens are not in a position to contribute this year.

So what can one person do? Plenty.

Can you volunteer at a soup kitchen?
Can you spare just one can of food to your local food pantry?
Can you buy a pair of warm socks or mittens for your local Red Cross?

My church has a Giving Tree set up in their lobby. The tree is decorated with Christmas Cards and inside the cards is a handwritten request. The requests are simple. Diapers. Baby Formula. A pair of mittens. A scarf. Small stuff, don't you think?

This year, I've asked my kidadults to each take a card from the Giving Tree and buy that person a gift instead of buying me a present. While they always come up with a wonderful surprise for me - this year, someone else needs it more. And what better gift is there then the gift of giving?

What can you do for the less fortunate in your community?

Oatmeal, Cherry and White Chocolate Cookies (makes 4 to 5 dozen depending on size)

2/3 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups old fashioned, quick oats
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup dried cherries, rough chopped (you can also use dried cranberries)
2/3 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Beat butter and sugars together until light and creamy. Add eggs, one at a time and beat until combined.
In a separate bowl, combine oats, flour, baking soda and salt. Add to creamed mixture in a few additions, beating after each addition. Stir in cherries and chips.
Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until light golden brown.
Cool on rack.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Holiday Questionaire.. Care to Play?

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!



Vodka Logic posted these questions and asked her readers to play along... Here are my answers to 25 Holiday questions (orginally written by Mandy's Life After 30)


If you're reading this post, then you must:

(a) leave a comment and answer the below 25 questions that Mandy made up,

(b) write the answers to the questions below in your own blog post, if you have a blog, that is.

or (c) call yourself a scrooge in the comment below and refuse to answer them.

I hope you choose (A) or (B) but if you choose (C) then I'll just let the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future deal with you. If you do decide to write your own blog post about it, please mention Mandy since she is the author of these important questions. (Writers credit and all that jazz - thanks!)


(1) What is your favorite Christmas movie?
White Christmas - I even know all the songs, not just the title one. TBHITW and I watch it every year... hmm.. maybe this weekend.

(2) What is your LEAST favorite Christmas movie?
The Grinch Movie (not the cartoon) the one with Jim Carey in it...

(3) What is your favorite Christmas song?
Oh Holy Night... it just gives me chills...


(4) What Christmas song(s) drives you crazy?
Grandma got run over by a reindeer - WTF?


(5) What is your favorite Christmas drink? (i.e. egg nog, hot chocolate)
Hot buttered rum..

(6) What is your favorite Christmas memory?
When I had littles and they believed...

(7) What is the best toy/gift you've received on Christmas?
My youngest was born on Dec. 10 - I had a tres petite little for Christmas!!

(8) What is the worst toy/gift you've received on Christmas?
Can't think of anything... I guess I am blessed.

(9) What do you LOVE about the holidays?
How happy and giving most people are.

(10) What annoys you about the holidays?
People forget the reason for the season.

(11) Do you prefer star or angel on top of a Christmas tree? Or something else?
Angel.

(12) What is your family favorite recipe at Christmas?
Kiefels - lekvar and nut filled

(13) Are you a Grinch or a Who at Christmastime?
Definitely a Who.

(14) Christmas light displays - Love them or Hate them?
Love, Love, Love them. Tacky, tasteful, white, blue, colored, whatever...

(15) Santas at the mall - Fun times or Creepy?
Better over the years. Most have REAL beards!!

(16) Christmas cards - do you send them, yes or no?
YES! Every year - always an original with a picture of the family..

(17) What is the best thing about Christmas, in your opinion?
The feeling of goodwill and the act of giving.

(18) What is the worst thing about Christmas?
That there are people (children especially) who won't experience the magic of Christmas

(19) When do you put the tree up and take it down?
It's up!! Usually two weeks before and it comes down on New Year's Day.

(20) Out of the 12 days of Christmas, which day and item would you want your true love to give to you?
Geese - roasted perfectly I might add.

(21) Why do you think that Grandma got run over by a reindeer?
Because her grandchildren were rotten and made her walk home. Again, WTF?

(22) Who is your favorite reindeer?
Vixen - definitely Vixen

(23) Do you believe in Santa Claus?
Uh - YEAH!!

(24) What is your favorite smell at Christmastime?
The tree.

(25) What would make you happy at Christmas this year?
I'm already happy, but Peace and family unity are always nice.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Oh Tannenbaum and Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie



We had our first snow of the season this weekend.

The temperature dropped from the 50's to the 30's within hours and big fluffy snowflakes drifted down all night long.

We could not have asked for a more perfect setting for our annual Christmas Tree cutting day.

Every year, ever since the kidadults were littles, we bundle up in coats, hats, scarves and gloves and drive up north to The Quick Family Farm to cut down our Christmas tree.

Then, as tradition mandates, we stop for lunch at Johnny's Hot Dog Stand in Butzville. Yes, that's right. Butzville. You can imagine the jokes my kids tell and how they have progressed over the years... actually, I should say digressed...

The Quick Family Christmas Tree Farm

Looking for the perfect tree


Even Holly Bear got to go this year. She LOVED the snow!


This is it!! This is the one...


Finding and cutting the perfect tree is hungry work.

Johnny's Hot Dog Stand - Hot dogs, french fries and a drink are the only items on the menu. Notice they only serve two beverages - Birch Beer or Buttermilk, in big, heavy frosted mugs.

Guess we're not the only family who follow this tradition. See all the trees on top of the cars?


Because it is tradition I had a bite or two of my Johnny's Hot Dog and shared the rest with Holly Bear. This evening's dinner, after the tree decorating is done, will be something a little more healthful.

Do you and your family have a "tree" tradition in your house?

Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie (serves 5)

4 large potatoes (preferably Yukon Gold) peeled and diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and diced
3 large carrots, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch cuts
2 stalks celery, diced into 1/2 inch
2 medium turnips, peeled and diced
1 overflowing cup of mushrooms (your choice) thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup soy protein or vegetable burgers, crumbled (optional)
1/3 cup (or more) half and half (or milk if preferred)
Kosher Salt
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Smoked Paprika

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place potatoes in large pot of salted water. Bring to boil, then lower heat to medium and cook until soft - about 10 minutes.

While potatoes are cooking, heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onion, carrots, celery, mushrooms and turnips. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Saute until vegetables are soft and begin to color. Add garlic and continue to saute until fragrant and veggies are nicely browned. Add 1 1/2 cups of liquid from the cooked potatoes to the skillet and bring to a simmer. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce, 2 tablespoons of butter, chopped vegetable protein and parsley. Heat through.

Butter an oven proof casserole. Add vegetable mixture and spread evenly on bottom of casserole.

Mash the potatoes with the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter and the half and half. Season with salt and pepper. Spread over vegetable mixture in casserole. Sprinkle with just a bit of smoked paprika.

Bake for 20 minutes until piping hot. If desired, run under broiler to crisp and brown the mash potato topping.

Enjoy on a snowy, winter's eve.

A Cook's Notes: You can use the vegetable or soy protein if you like - I have made this both with and without. If you want a beefy tasting pie, use baby portabella mushrooms.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Tale of The Geologist, The Cook and Stone Soup



If you have been reading this blog for sometime, you may recall that TBHITW is a Professional Geologist (PG, REA) That's right. He gets to put important capital letters after his name.

But more important than the letters after the name is his love of being a geologist. He really loves what he does. I think that's just about the luckiest thing in the whole world: really loving what you do.

TBHITW loves being a geologist so much that he constantly brings home samples of his work. Yes, in our house we have rocks. Many rocks. Big rocks, small rocks, rocks of many colors, rocks all over the place. Rocks on shelves. Rocks in boxes. Rocks on little pedestals. Sometimes I have to take rocks out of his pockets before I can do the laundry. His mother tells me he has been collecting rocks ever since he was a little boy.

Why, I bet as I sit here typing this he is out in the field somewhere looking at a rock. Perhaps marveling at its rockiness. I have seen the rock look many times. First he picks it up. Then he looks at it, I mean really looks at it. Then he removes his glasses to look closer. He may smell it. He may even taste it. He'll roll it around in his hand a bit (if it's small enough) and then finally, he'll announce what it is made of. Granite or marble or shist or sandstone or a hundred other things that rocks can be composed of. That rock may or may not come home with him tonight. You never know when a new rock will make its way into our home or outside in our (wait for it) rock garden.

What is the point of this story? It's to set you up for this riddle:

What do you get when you cross a geologist and a cook?

Why you get Stone Soup of course.

Stone Soup: serves a family or a village....


One Stone, scrubbed clean

32 ounces vegetable broth or chicken broth or beef - whatever you have.
2 potatoes, scrubbed, cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 stalks celery, diced
2 large carrots, peeled, diced
1 onion, diced
1 bag frozen corn
1 bag frozen peas
8 white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced thinly
2 tablespoons olive oil

In a large soup pot place oil and saute onions, carrots and celery until fragrant and soft. Add mushrooms and cook until they release their juices. Add potatoes and 1 cup of broth - just enough to cover the potatoes. Simmer until the potatoes are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the rest of the broth and the stone and turn up the heat and add the corn and peas. Cook until all the vegetables are heated through. Add seasonings of your choice. Fresh parsley? Thyme? Salt, pepper... enjoy.

What do you do when you have many leftovers but in small amounts? Do you make your own version of Stone Soup?


A Cooks Notes:

The idea of stone soup is to use whatever you have a little of. By adding a little of this and a little of that you create a delicious pot of food - where before you had none. No potatoes? How about white beans? or rice? No carrots? Do you have a turnip? Or a parsnip. Perhaps that bit of leftover chicken.. Be adventurous. There is no right or wrong. Of course you could always have a Stone Soup party. Invite a bunch of people over and have them bring one ingredient for soup. Then mix it all up and enjoy.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Feasting and Falafel




Thanksgiving and the great feasting is officially over, at least for a few short weeks until the next great feasting event called Christmas.

I absolutely cannot put another fattening morsel into my mouth. Turkey, sausage stuffing, sweet potatoes, cheese cake, anything pumpkin or drizzled with gravy is banished - for now.

What I am craving is simple, vegetarian dishes. Salads with a light vinaigrette, steamed vegetables and fresh fruit. Hummus with homemade pita and a big glass of cool, clear water.


Today's Lunch


How about you? What do you crave after the feast is gone?

Falafel with yogurt sauce and hummus: (feeds 4 to 5)

To make the falafel lower in fat, I bake it rather than fry. Feel free to do either according to your tastes.
  • 1 15 oz. can chickpeas, drained
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 3/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 cup vegetable, canola or peanut oil
Pita Bread
Cucumber Sauce
Hummus
Lettuce, shredded
Tomato, diced

Preheat Oven to 400 degrees F.
Combine chickpeas, garlic, onion, coriander, cumin, salt and pepper (to taste) in food processor. Using on / off pulses, mash. It should not be perfectly smooth, but a thick paste. Add flour and combine well.

Pour 1/4 cup oil onto a rimmed cookie sheet. Place in oven for 5 minutes. Be careful. Oil will be very hot. Remove from oven.

Form the falafal mixture into small balls, about the size of a ping pong ball and place gently on the pan with the hot oil. Slightly flatten. Place in oven for 10 minutes.


Turn and continue to bake for another 10 minutes or until slightly brown and crisp on both sides. Remove from oven and drain on paper towels.
Cucumber Sauce:
1 cup greek style yogurt

1 cucumber, peeled and sliced

Take half the cucumber slices and mince. Stir into the yogurt, add a pinch of salt

and a dash of pepper. Set aside.


Hummus:

1 can chick peas, drained, liquid reserved

8 ounces Tahini (ground sesame seeds)

2 cloves garlic

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Pinch Salt

Place chick peas, garlic, lemon juice and salt in food processor. Add half reserved
chick pea liquid. Process until smooth. Add tahini, process again until smooth and
combined.


Assembly:

Slice Pita bread in half.
Smear some hummus on bread. Add two Falafels, top with lettuce, tomato and
cucumber sauce. Feel good about yourself!


A Cook's Notes: I've tried most brands of Falafel mix out there and most are good.
If you don't want to take the time to make your own, don't pass on these mixes.









Monday, November 30, 2009

What We'll Be Doing This Weekend...



Some post Thanksgiving fun... starring TBHITW.

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!


Hope your T-day was wonderful!! I'll be back tomorrow with some light, vegetarian dishes.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Feeling Grateful


(Thank you to Nancy over at Life In The Second Half for today's post title)

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

I hope that wherever you find yourselves on Thursday - be it with friends or family, you find yourself happy, healthy and able to give thanks for whatever blessings life has bestowed on you.

Me, I am thankful for:

My husband. He is the love of my life and is truly The Best Husband In The World (for me)

My children. In them I see our future.

My grandchildren. They are precious reminders that life goes on...

My parents. They serve as examples of a life well lived, a marriage taken care of and family values.

My siblings. They put the FUN in dysfunctional and make me smile and laugh out loud.

My home. We built it together - and it is more than a house.

My kitchen. This room is where I do my best work.

My friends. I can count you all on one hand. And that's all I need. You sustain me.

My dog. You drive me crazy, but you give me such love and loyalty.

My health. I will strive to do more to protect it.

My God. For always listening and answering - even when I don't like the answer.

My country. This truly is the greatest nation on earth.

My freedom (see "My country" above)

My countrymen and women. To those serving here and oversees, thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Here is hoping you have a safe, happy and healthy Thanksgiving.



Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Dessert and Other Activities



Do you have a family activity or tradition that you do every year AFTER the turkey, stuffing and all the sides have been devoured?

Do you serve dessert right after the dinner plates are cleared? Or do you take a leisurely stroll? Perhaps play a rousing game of touch football? Maybe just relax and watch some football on TV?

Football not your sport? Perhaps a favorite board game gets taken out of storage.. or maybe you just need a nap?

Whatever you and your family do right after the turkey is cleared one thing is clear, at some point in the day, the table will once again be groaning under the weight of food. This time, instead of a savory roast bird and all the trimmings, I'm willing to bet the table will be covered with pies, cakes, cookies and all sort of delicious sweet concoctions.

In my family, my mom is the official baker at holiday time. Pumpkin pie, blueberry buckle, pumpkin roll are just a few of her specialties.... but this year I'm going to add something sweet of my own concoction:

Pumpkin Cheesecake Cupcakes with Maple Brown Sugar Frosting* (makes 12 to 15 cupcakes)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set the rack in the middle of the oven. Line cupcake tin with paper. (depending on the size, this recipe will make 12 to 15 cupcakes)

One 8 ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Using an electric mixer, combine cream cheese, sugar, egg white and vanilla. Set aside.

1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder and salt together. Set aside.

1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

In another bowl, whisk together pumpkin, sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla. Whisk into the flour mixture.

Place a heaping tablespoon of pumpkin mixture in bottom of each cupcake liner. Then place a heaping tablespoon of cream cheese mixture. Go back and top each cupcake tin with more pumpkin batter.

Bake in center of oven for 25 minutes. The cupcake tops will crack during baking. Cool completely on a rack.

Brown Sugar Maple Frosting:

1 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
4 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, very cold and cut into tablespoon size slices
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Using an electric mixer, beat brown sugar, maple syrup and egg whites and salt until combined. Fill a saucepan with 1 inch of water - bring to a simmer. Place the mixing bowl with the egg whites on top of saucepan. Whisk the mixture for about 3 to 5 minutes. This will melt the sugar and give you a syrupy base. Remove from heat and beat with the mixer at high speed until fluffy.



Lower the speed and continue to beat until frosting cools to room temperature. Add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until combined, then beat again on high for 5 minutes. Beat in 1/2 cup powdered sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.

Transfer to pastry bag and pipe decoratively on cupcakes.

A Cook's Notes: I store the cupcakes in the refrigerator. Also, any cupcakes over the dozen, I bake in aluminum liners and sprinkle with walnuts before baking... TBHITW eats these as breakfast muffins!



*Adapted from Every Day with Rachel Ray magazine.








Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Side Dishes


Okay.

You have the turkey.
You have the stuffing recipe.
Corn - check.
Dinner Rolls - check.
Sweet Potatoes - check.
Mashed Potatoes - check.

Seems there is more starch on a Thanksgiving table than at a Chinese Laundry. But we still need more don't we?

Herewith my family favorites as contributions to the already groaning table:

Peas with Bacon, Turnips and Dill (serves 6 - 8)

1 package frozen peas (16 ounces) cooked to package directions
6 strips bacon - fried crisp and drained on a paper towel. Reserve bacon grease.
1 small turnip, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch pieces
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons dill

Fry bacon, drain on paper towel and set aside.
In bacon fat, brown and saute the turnips until soft and golden - about 5 to 7 minutes.
Mix dill with softened butter in a small dish.
Cook peas according to package directions. Drain.
Toss the turnips into the peas, add dilled butter and stir to coat peas and turnips. Season with pepper. Crumble bacon over top and serve immediately.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Cranberries, Walnuts and Wilted Spinach (serves 6 to 8)

One butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into 1 inch cubes
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup walnuts
2 cups fresh spinach
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
Kosher Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Place the butternut squash cubes in a heavy, oven proof casserole (with a lid if you have one, if not, you will use aluminum foil).

Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Add the butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Put a lid on the casserole and place in the center of the oven. Roast for 30 minutes. Uncover and stir. Toss the walnuts and cranberries in with the squash and stir to mix around. Put back in oven and roast for another 20-30 minutes until nicely browned and soft. Stir once or twice while checking for doneness.
Remove from oven and toss in spinach leaves. Cover for 5 minutes to wilt the spinach.
Serve.

Cranberry Relish with Oranges and Walnuts:

1 package (16 ounces) fresh cranberries
1 cup water
2 small naval oranges, cut into eighths
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup (optional) Grand Marnier or other orange flavored liquor
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts, toasted

In a heavy saucepan combine cranberries, water, oranges, sugar and liquor. Cook over high heat until mixture reaches a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until cranberries begin to burst and liquid is slightly thickened. Remove from heat, transfer to bowl with lid and chill thoroughly. Top with chopped walnuts just before serving.

Pomegranate Spiced Apples: serves 6 to 8

4 Large Granny Smith Apples
1/3 cup Pomegranate Molasses
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
rind of 1 small orange (or clementine)
juice of 1 small orange (or clementine)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Peel and core apples, then cut into wedges about 3/4 inch thick.
Melt butter in heavy saute pan. Add pomegranate molasses, then apples, toss to coat. Sprinkle orange rind and juice over apples. Sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon and toss again to coat. Saute over medium heat until apples are semi soft and liquid is syrupy. Serve warm.

I chop the leftover apple mixture and add them to wild rice the next day and warm... ummm.. a yummy, sweet, nutty, side dish with leftover turkey or chicken.

Lemon Brussel Spouts with Pistachios:

One basket of brussel sprouts (about 10)
1/2 lemon, juiced and zest removed
1/4 cup shelled pistachios (unsalted if you can get them)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter

Cut the bottoms off the brussel sprouts and separate all the leaves. This takes a little time but you want brussel sprout leaves, not bundles.




Heat the oil and butter in a medium saute pan. Add the brussel sprouts and saute over medium high heat. Add the lemon juice and continue to saute until sprouts are beginning to wilt. Add the lemon zest and pistachios and toss around to heat the nuts.

Season with salt and a few good grinds of pepper. (if you are using salted pistachios, omit salting or taste to test.

Serve piping hot and don't tell me you don't like brussel sprouts again.


What are you favorite side dishes?


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