Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving Dinner

First off -- Many Thanks to Brother-in-Law and chief Turkey fryer, Byron for the pictures. I had a few but most came from him as I was busy cooking. Shown above are some of the pre-meal munchies we had.

Left is Diane's phyllo-tomato-cheese pie. It was half gone when I arrived, but I did manage to score a piece and it was very good. Next up are Diane's craveworthy deviled eggs. Very well done and so pretty~!
Jim's pimiento cheese is on the right (I know it's hard to see) which Melissa said "changed her life" It was very popular so I'll post the recipe below. For any of you folks "not from around here" (i.e. not southerners) Pimiento Cheese and Deviled eggs are required at any Important Gathering. Not pictured were Diane's turnip green dip and Liz's mushrooms and mozzarella.

Pimiento Cheese (I had to google it to find the correct spelling)
an 8 oz block of 2 of your favorite cheeses... except for Bleu - it doesn't play well with others. (For example, 8 oz of Sharp Cheddar and 8 oz of Monterey Jack.)
freeze the cheeses for a short time to make it easier to coarsely grate them.
meantime let 4 oz of cream cheese come to room temperature
after the cheese is coarsely grated add 1 small jar of pimientos and some of the pickling liquid, stir in and bond everything with the softened cream cheese, add a little salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
How to cook and serve Thanksgiving dinner:
First you must remove the cat from the table. She decided the bread basket fit her body perfectly.Then you pour some wine and get to work. Fortunately we had done most of the prep in the 2 preceeding days so it was the last minute items we worked on.. Seemed like there was a lot to do! I browned some Panko crumbs for use on top of a couple of casseroles (Thanks Neru for the tip!)
I had made the cheese sauce for the mac and cheese the day before so all I needed to do there was cook the pasta stir in and reheat the cheese (fontina, asiago, parmesan, cheddar and monterey jack) and assemble the dish. Melissa had her green bean casserole squeezed in with the Turkey in the oven and we used some bread crumbs there too.. although I think she should have used the onion rings instead.. Trust your instincts Mel. :) The Brussel Sprouts have just a few ingredients: shredded sprouts, toasted pecans, butter and maple syrup and some cider vinegar. Sautee it all up in a pan and you're done in 10 minutes! There were two cornbread dressings basically the same ingredients except for the stock used to moisten them. The vegetarian
and the chicken-turkey version:
The vegetarian option was far better this time. The pan I baked the other version in was like a pizza stone, and I've never used a baking dish like this before. I overcooked it and it was a bit dry :( but ..lessons learned! So far, I know it all looks like boring brown food. Unfortunately, I have no pics of Liz's sweet potatoes, brilliantly orange and smooth and she used a touch of garlic which was different, a nice touch, I'd say. Neither do I have a shot of her fantastic roasted corn salad that had several colors of peppers, black beans and some scallion greens. Also there was the beautiful deep red cranberry sauce so a lot of colors are underrepresented here and I apologize for that. The birds ( yes, two) were beautiful each in their own way. Roasted and deep fried: Bruce said Grace and we all gave Thanks for our many blessings. And here we are all together enjoying each other's company, interrupting each other, joking, laughing and eating.. Isn't that what it's all about? I know Norman Rockwell never painted a cat in the bread basket but this gathering felt pretty Rockwellian in spite of all our family nuttiness! 16 people 4 dogs, 2 cats a pig and a tree frog! Quite the gathering I'd say.
And we can't forget dessert! Pumpkin pie with the little Martha Stewart like pie crust leaves. What happened to the mincemeat Napoleons you ask? Darn, I was hoping you wouldn't.. OK I was out of steam, and wasn't up to the challenge of phyllo dough ( having never worked with it before) BUT I brought home the fantastic mincemeat concoction that Liz worked so hard on and I'll put together something to share with my neighbors and post.
And Ziggy the piggy awaits some leftovers: I hope everyone who reads this had a safe and Happy Thanksgiving. I know I did! Thanks again to Liz and Byron for their hospitality, we had a wonderful time. I'll be back at the book next week.
See you soon.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Contemplating Thanksgiving

For many years, it seemed to me my family was shrinking. We lost our Mom when I was 16, our Dad when I was something like 30. Our little sister died at age 28, I think I was 36-ish... it all kind of ran together. In the mean time brothers and sister were building lives and families and their own stories. We were busy and kind of drifted apart. Recently (in the past 2 years) we have begun to reconnect (Liz and I go farther back on the reconnect) but I want to say how grateful I am for that. It is my main Thanks at Thanksgiving. Our kids have significant others (shout out to Rodrigo! an ultimately wonderful man) some of them have babies... our family is GROWING again. And I for one am happy to see it.

I am also grateful for all my friends, even though many of you are Avatars. You are like family to me, and my RL friends, the few I can count ARE family to me. The world is changing, connections are changing and I find it all very fascinating. I wish I could share a meal with each and every one of you. Fundamentally we connect in the same way we always have, it's the media of connection that is changing... and if we are vigilant, the quality will not suffer.

This Thanksgiving I am grateful for my friends and new extended family, I am grateful to live in this blessed country with the freedoms we take for granted, I am grateful for my health and my husband and my dog, and my son. I am grateful for our troops who sacrifice to keep us free.

I will post with food pics and a Thanksgiving story if I ever get the pictures worked out. I was busy cooking and not photoshooting, but bear with us here, dear Bro-in-law has the pics. We'll work out the details... or I will pester him to death.

See you soon.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Excess... or Just in case?

Do you like to chew ice? I do. I like it a lot! Today I got a dayful of bliss with a large cup of Sonic (the fast food place) ice for 54 cents!! And it lasted all day. But I digress...

Today was prep day. I made little fall leaves from pie dough to decorate our (yes - store bought) pumpkin pies. You have to make some things simple when you can.
Liz made the mincemeat mixture with all the dried fruits and apples and brandy and rum and really great stuff tomorrow we will do the phyllo and the boozy whipped cream...
Jim shredded the brussel sprouts on the (As seen on TV V-slicer) and I toasted pecans and made maple syrup butter to toss them in. Liz crafted a corn salad with black beans, corn, scallions, roasted peppers and will add some feta tomorrow. Sorry no pics, I was working on a glass of 2 buck chuck sauvignon blanc.

All this cooking took place in Liz's beautifully open house, lots of light and open space, a beautifully redesigned kitchen, along with 4 dogs 2 cats and pig who lives outside. It's a busy, busy place. The Persian cat, which we suspect has no brain, immediately took up residence on the counter on the tea towels I brought (which are now property of Liz). Our dog, Bullet, was pacing all over the house looking for love in all the wrong places. Buddy, the German Shepard just wanted to lie the middle of any traffic path. Gigi the small dog, has to be locked up and she barked and humped the bed a lot. Ziggy the pig, while not tangled up in a blanket was eating apples and turning away from brussel sprouts.

We had many managers and a couple of workers trying to fit a 22 lb turkey into a slightly too small cooler for brining. I made the brining solution and just let the engineers work out the details.

In observing all this, so many dishes, so many pets, so many options (we are cooking 3 turkeys >.<) 3 desserts, several wines. I wonder are we a family given to excess? Yes. no doubt. But we could also be described as a family of "just in case"? We have extra desserts just in case someone has a different preference. We have 3 turkeys just in case one doesn't work out. I don't know, maybe this is rationalizing the excess. I am one for simplicity myself. I get rid of anything extraneous by going to Goodwill or toss! toss! toss! I choose 2 maybe 3 dishes for a special meal. Interesting comtemplation for me.

Anyway tomorrow is the big day! Lots of cooking and connecting left to do. We are all eager .. there are more family memebers arriving tonight ( while I am back at the lake in safety) Even the pig is happy!!! Have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone and safe travels. Lots of pics tomorrrow.
See you soon!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

From the Shores Of High Rock Lake North Carolina

My wonderful sister is hosting our 2nd Annual Thanksgiving dinner at her house in Lewisville NC this week. Being the understanding, sweet and gracious woman she is, she knows we are really reclusive at heart and she lets us to stay at her (and Byron's) beautiful lake house... which allows us to play FFXI without too much explaining and take a time out from socializing with my zany family. (I love them all but you know what I'm sayin.)

Today we traveled to Lewisville and began a shopping marathon for the Thursday feast. We started at Whole Foods which was NUTS!! Predatory parking and full contact shopping. Aside from Whole Foods, Lewisville has far superior supermarket shopping than Atlanta. There is a fantastic Harris Teeter and an equally impressive Lowe's Food. Before I get too far ahead, I must mention we had a very tasty lunch at an upscale Mexican restaurant -Mi Pueblo- with brother Bruce, his wife, Diane and his daughter, the lovely Maria. It was a busy place with an extensive and interesting menu and as always, Bruce knew everyone in the place by first name. Most had the Jerk Chicken, I had the Enchiladas Suizas; and I might mention several Margaritas were consumed. We finished the shopping spree at Harris Teeter with recipes and Liz's planning documents in hand, and secured all our provisions.

My gorgeous sister Liz, is in fact, a force of nature. She is a perpetual motion machine and trying to keep up with her, by 4:00 pm I was toast. So rather than starting prep in Lewisville tonight , we retreated to the lake and I am currently working on turkey stock while Jim is preparing the Cranberry Orange relish and the pimento cheese. Don't worry! I am only updating the blog between skimming stints. Skim! Skim! Skim! Turkey stock in need of skimming:
And cranberry relish: Also tonight I am baking the cornbread for our cornbread dressing. Lessons to imbed in the brain: 1.Take care of the things you can, as you can, 2.always have mise en place (everything ready and organized) 3. always clean as you go and the task will never overwhelm you. Cornbread:

Good Night everyone, see some of you on FFXI have a great night!
See you soon.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Lovely Lunch at the Farmhouse

Today we had lunch at the Farmhouse in Palmetto GA. It was about an 80 minute drive south for us, in a downpour and with highways under construction, but I have to say, with all the trauma in the travel, the experience was well worth it.

We met lovely and loved John and Cheryl and traipsed thru the puddles to the porch and once inside were welcomed as if we were family. This is a lovely dining room, rustic yet elegant and everyone is SO friendly but not overbearingly so. On Sundays they offer 3 courses and the only entree is fried chicken. It comes with collard greens, butter beans, and creamed corn. The table bread basket offers delightfully fluffy and tasty chive biscuits. We had the starter of fried green tomatoes, which would have been better in spring but were still very good and a spicy remoulade " warning! you get 5 slices of tomato with each order ". John and Cheryl had the arugula salad which looked very fresh and nice.

The chicken had been soaked in buttermilk (all this is speculation and I am an amateur) and it had a nice tang to it, the crust was very tasty and not too thick. It was served airline style which means the ribs are removed but the drumstick part of the wing remains. The creamed corn was sweet and creamy, the collards were perfect!!! Not at all bitter,very tender and tasty. The butter beans were soft and well, buttery. A great combination. There was a nice selection of wines by the glass and also some cocktails and beers available.

The dessert offerings today were a buttermilk cake with chocolate fudge frosting ( it was a bit dry) and a peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream which was very nice.

The Farmhouse is a part of the Serenbe community, an interesting and unique gathering of shops, an Inn and 2 restaurants as well as residential housing. All are committed to farm-to-table dining in a really beautiful setting. The atmosphere at the Farmhouse is as if you are dining in a friend's home, it was just lovely. There are not many places I would expend this much effort to get to, but the Farmhouse iss definitely one of them.

Thanks John and Cheryl for meeting us, it was a great experience.

See you soon.

Coming Soon

Marathon Thanksgiving cooking next week. We will be on the road Monday and prepping and cooking starting Tuesday. We have vegans and vegetarians with us so extra carbs and vegs.

On the menu: (subject to change and I'm going from memory)
Jim's World famous pimento cheese
Diane's amazing appetizers
Possibly Gruyere Gougeres from FTL cookbook
Byron's deep fried Turkey and Sally's gravy
Jim's cranberry-orange relish
Sally's cornbread dressing
Rolls (of course)
Sally's 5 cheese mac and cheese
Liz's Sweet Potatoes
Liz's Corn Salad
Sally's Brussel Sprouts with pecans and maple butter adapted from this recipe:
Melissa's Green Bean Casserole
Pumpkin Pie
Sally's and Liz's Faux mincemeat Napoleons with boozy whipped cream adapted from this recipe:
http// you have to scroll down to "A Happy Accident"

We'll have lots of posts and pics.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Friday, November 13, 2009

White Truffle Oil Infused Custards with Black Truffle Ragout

This recipe is (as the title implies) a truffle oil infused custard but the Keller twist is that it is baked and served in eggshells. There is a nifty potato chive chip stuck in it as a garnish. I prepared the chips a day ahead. You slice them on a mandoline (or in my case a V-slicer As Seen on TV!) and between 2 thin potato pieces you place a snip of a chive tip. You press them together and bake between 2 clarified butter coated and kosher salted silpat sheets and cover with a second baking pan.

Mine took much longer than the recipe indicated and I decided to flip them halway through because one side was browning and the other was not. Here are the finished chips.

As a side note, here's what Jim did with the leftovers (wonderfully supportive is getting too long to type out). Obviously he didn't read the fine print about not showing me up. Fantastic spontaneous pantatoes with a little creme fraiche on the side.

The incredible edible egg. It's a good thing they are so darn edible because I've gone through about 2 dozen on this dish. A week or so ago while making an omlette, I decided to practice my shell sawing skills on some non-organic white supermarket eggs. (I know I know...shame on me.) You take a serrated knife and saw the big end of the egg off and then clean out the membrane creating the cooking vessel. Surprisingly it went pretty well, and due to that I was lulled into a false sense of egg security. When it came time to make the real thing, I didn't do as well.

After about a dozen of these, wonderful supportive husband went in search of an egg cutter. Believe it or not, he found one! Another $40 down the project tubes....but hey! I had truffles riding on this. This is the fancy schmancy egg cutter he brought home.. something kind of sick about having a chicken on it.

To complicate matters, the recipe is really not clear about exactly how many actual eggs you need. The ingredients list says "8 large eggs with paper carton" (note: it does NOT say 8 large egg SHELLS) Then in the text there is a reference to 2 extra eggs needed. It does not anywhere state to save those 8 eggs for another use. Since you need 8 shells does that mean 10 eggs? Not using my common sense (which gets me into trouble in the kitchen - once famously for burning the crap out of some sausages and grapes because I "remembered" the recipe said 45 minutes and dear husband ate the damn things saying he liked the caramelization!! what a guy!!) I know that custard does not take a zillion eggs but I was trying to carefully follow the book. Anyways, common sense finally took hold and I realized I only needed 2 eggs for the custard. I think we are eating scrambled eggs again tomorrow.

So, you heat up some cream and milk and put it in the blender, you add truffle oil salt and pepper and your 2 eggs.. I only used one because I was halving this part of the recipe. Whirr it all up and pour into a pitcher, skimming the foamy stuff off the top. You knew there had to be skimming, right? Then you fill your anxious little eggshells 3/4 full and cook them in a hot water bath in the oven for about 45 min.

Meanwhile you make your Black Truffle Ragout which is some of the veal stock we made previously, some minced black truffles, which is reduced to a sauce consistentcy then add some butter and white truffle oil. This stuff is so luxurious.. I wish I could describe the smell, it was heavenly.

When the custards are done you spoon a little of the ragout on top and then poke a potato chive chip into the center. Then, if you are a blogger, you have a little beauty contest to see who is Miss Photogenic. the runners up: ( those in the holding cell together must have been caught drinking or smoking or stealing truffles because they are in jail.)

And the winner is: (first shot before she gets her crown and then after the crowning)
Regarding the "crown" the potato-chive chips had gotten really chewy overnight so I slapped them in the oven to try to crisp them up, got a little too brown but at least got the crunch back.

These things were amazing! So smooth and truffle-y, if you've never tasted white truffle (or oil) it's almost ethereal, there is nothing else like it I've ever tasted in the food world. I wish I had better words to describe the flavor it is so unique and earthy and heavenly at the same time. If I ever have a small dinner party I might make these for appetizers. They were really really good.

See you soon.. no more eggs for a while.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Coming soon to a Blog near you

O.O a surprise! What's in the bag?

A little late for trick or treat but hey good things come to those who wait. What do you suppose is in the bag? Candy? A PBJ sandwich? Grocery store coupons?
Guess again...
No it isn't what we picked up after Bullet's walk in the park... it's...

TRUFFLES!! These fine specimens hail from Oregon and cost 1/6 of the European versions, though they still aren't cheap by any means. Which is to say... I better get to work on these babies NOW! Fortunately they came with 2 pages of instructions on how to freeze them since they only last 3-5 days. Chef Kellar has about 2 sentences about poaching them in mushroom stock and freezing, but with this much money on the line I'll go with the 2 pages of instructions. LOL

See you soon

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Parmigiano-Reggiano Custards with Romaine Lettuce, Anchovy Dressing and Parmesan Crisp

A.K.A. Caeser Salad on TFL menu.

First of all let me say, I really wish I had better camera skills. STEPHEN!! I need you :) But then you'd have to quit school and move and live with your crazy aunt while she cooks... so that may be just a trifle too much. Anyway, I apologize for the picture quality.

This is classic Keller: take a dish, give it a new creative twist, and while keeping the same ingredients, turn it into something totally new and different. Basically we have anchovy dressing (sorry no pics) a crouton, topped with a parmesan custard, a parmesan crisp and a chiffonade of hearts of romaine that have been tossed in some of the dressing.

You start by combining cream and milk and Parmigiano-Reggiano, bring to simmer and turn off heat and let it infuse.

Once that's done you combine it with some eggs to make your custard. Straining the cream infusion and whisking a bit at a time to temper the eggs. Then you ladel into your molds. These molds are too big which turned out to be the weakest part of the dish. But they were what I had. You place the filled molds into a roasting pan and fill about 1/2 way with HOT water and cover with foil and bake in a slow oven for 30 min. Pretty much your standard custard preparation. Before the bain-marie (water bath): After they came out of the oven:
They look pretty much the same except you can see the "after" ones have puffed a bit and look set.

Let the molds chill for 2 hours. Then there is the final assembly. You spoon some dressing on the plate and top it with a crouton. On top of the crouton, place your unmolded custard. Mine unmolded a little messier than I had hoped and as you can see the custard is too big in proportion to the other ingredients. Anyways, on top of the custard place a parmesan crisp and finally top with the chiffonade of hearts of romaine. Add a couple of dots of balsamic glaze on the plate.
The flavors were really good together, the crunch of the crouton against the creaminess of the custard and the tangy romaine. I think it would have been perfect if I had the proper molds. Keller calls for molds that hold 2 T. As it was, the custard really overwhelmed the other components. But that's what this project is all about.. learning and trying.

I know I keep promising shrimp, I'm waiting for a good price on them. They were really inexpensive 2 weeks ago....Figures LOL I have ordered black truffles so when they arrive I will have to make everything in the book with black truffles... very quickly. They say you can freeze them so that might take some pressure off.

See you soon.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Favorite Vegetarian meal (or one of them)

This recipe is adapted from Molly Wizenberg's Orangette blog (which due to her restaurant opening has gone sadly quiet recently) we all miss her but we know she is busy and will come back to us. But anyway I believe she adapted it from Jamie Oliver's Italian cookbook "Jamie's Italy".. there ! I hope all the proper acknowledgements are in place.

So incredibly simple and so delicious! The amount of ingredients is immaterial, it depends on how much you want. You go and look for fresh delicious wild mushrooms, or anything fresh you can find actually. I used chanterelles on my first try here. Clean them and slice them up and put them in a baking dish. Then tear fresh mozzarella into chunks and scatter them over the top of the mushrooms, add some fresh thyme (leaves stripped from stems) and a couple of pinches of kosher salt or sea salt if you have it. Drizzle the whole thing with some good quality extra virgin olive oil, and place in a 450 oven until the cheese bubbles.

I like to serve it with hot crusty bread, you could add a small salad to make a complete meal.

Sorry I don't have pics. But you can check out Molly's lovely prose and photos at

See you soon

Friday, November 6, 2009

Cream of Walnut Soup with poached Pear Puree

Mmm Mmm Good. Dessert soup is something I never really gave much thought to. Soup is my favorite thing by far but I don't think I've ever had a dessert soup.. If I ever had, it wasn't memorable. Making this soup reminded me of happy Christmas memories. I don't really know why.. maybe a partridge in a Pear tree... Maybe because I sometimes receive boxes of Harry & David pears as Christmas gifts. Maybe it was the scent of the vanilla bean and seeds infusing with the cream and walnuts that smelled like christmas cookie baking, or the scent of the pears poaching, sort of reminiscent of mulled cider. In any case, I was in a merry mood while preparing this dish. Maybe it was the wine! :)

Relatively speaking this is a very easy dish to make. First you make some poaching liquid with white wine, water, sugar and some lemon juice -- And guess what? you have to skim! Skimming aside, how could those ingredients be bad? You peel, core and cut a pear and poach it in some of the liquid until just done.

Meanwhile you pour a heart attack inducing amount of heavy cream into a pan with .. get this 1/4 cup milk! LOL! I mean why bother with the milk? (Sorry couldn't resist.) You add to the pan some toasted (skins removed - it's harder than it sounds because they are so crinkly) chopped walnuts, the scraped seeds from a piece of vanilla bean and the pod after scraping. It looks like my countertop! >.<

The wonderful supportive spouse gets extra kudos for finding the best vanilla beans I've ever procured. They were stored in a glass tube and so not at all dried out and very easy to work with.

Your walnut cream mixture simmers along getting all infused with flavor and making you think happy thoughts. Oddly enough skimming is not mentioned in this recipe so I left it alone, although I might have developed a skimming addiction, because I sure wanted to! After the flavors are all infused you strain the walnut cream mixture. Discard the walnuts and vanilla pod.

Back to the pears: they are sittting in the blender with a small amount of poaching liquid ready to be pureed. Once that's done, add the hot cream to the blender carefully (I did it in batches) because hot liquids expand --- and mix it all together! Pear puree shown below.

This is a VERY rich soup, made for small servings, garnish each serving with a drop of walnut oil and serve. Wish I had some pretty shot glasses to use. Ramekins will have to do for now.

The flavors were subtle yet very comforting, the pears held their own (in a refreshing way) quite well against the richness of the cream very slight bitterness of the walnuts. I loved it!
Hopefully I'll have some shrimp canapes up next.

See you soon.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Parmesan Crisps with Goat Cheese Mousse

This was my 4th attempt at this and this is supposed to be a fun project, not an exercise in frustration, so in keeping it real, I'm showing you these failed morsels. As you may remember in the parmesan crisps posts, I mentioned that theoretically you can shape the molten cheese crisps into a tulip cup shape while simultaneously searing off your fingerprints. So if you want to change your identity, this may be the recipe for you! I tried the egg carton, I tried the upside down shot glasses that Carol Blymire used. I tried several vessels and could never make them tulip up.

So, pressing onward, I went ahead and made the goat cheese mousse. I must admit I am not a goat cheese fan, I have only ever tasted one I really liked. So I bought the mildest goat cheese I could find. I mixed it up in the food processor as instructed added the cream and at the very end added the herbs and salt and pepper. I didn't take a picture but it was more soupy than mousse-y. From reading others' experiences it seems this is a fairly common occurence. Chef Keller is known for sourcing only the finest ingredients and I suspect that has much to do with his ability to mousse this stuff.... oh and... not to mention skill and talent!

Anyhoo, I piped the soup-mousse onto my flat crisps. A couple of them kept the little star swirl for a few seconds but not long enough for the camera.

As you can see even the picture sucks. Maybe my heart just wasn't in it. I ate one and it tasted ok, but as I said goat cheese isn't my cheese of choice. Wonderful Supportive husband said they were "not bad". All in all not a rousing endorsement, but if you are a goat cheese fan, and you don't mind serving on flat chips instead of tulips... these might be for you!

More (better) canapes on the way

See you soon!