Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Dinner

I know, most people post about holiday food before the holiday. But not me. I'm posting about it after. So there. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It's much less stressful than Christmas (especially for me since I don't host it, heh) and involves a great deal of pie. I love pie. I go to my brothers in the morning, help cook, sometimes help clean and generally try to be of use (although this year I got in the way more than helped, trying to take pictures). My sister in law does the majority of the cooking, all of it fantastic. Various family shows up around one and we start at it. Here is what we had (I don't have the recipes right now, but will update when I do. If anyone is interested in anything in particular let me know and I will get it to you). Turkey, of course. It's brined using Alton Browns method, which I can't recommend enough. The turkey always comes out moist and flavorful, it's just the best. That goes into the oven in the morning. We also baste it in butter, chicken broth and this year some sage leaves. Basting is one of my jobs. There are also sides. A small mountain of mashed potatoes, creamed onions, corn, squash (ugh, sorry about the pic. That was the best one.), stuffing (in the bird and out), gravy, cranberry sauce and rolls. Not to mention dessert. Apple pie, mince meat pie, pumpkin pudding with meringue, chocolate mouse pie and apple pecan cheesecake. Yeah.

But we start with crackers, cheese, chips and dip. This is a sun dried tomato, pesto, goat cheese (I think) torte. It is awesome. Then we sit down at the table. Which has food on it. And we eat. Good times.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Braciole Take 3: Individual Tastes

So, last time I made braciole (as opposed to the first time when I didn't spell it right or cook it successfully) I learned a few things that I wanted to implement. And implement them I did. First off, the pre-butchered braciole meat is plenty big for two portions, typically. Which is great if you have people who like different things, like I do. With all that meat you can do individual ones. My girlfriend wanted hard boiled egg, no cheese and no onion. I wanted onion and cheese. So I cut the meat in half and piled on the bread crumbs mixed with egg (I used whole wheat bread to make the crumbs this time, since it's what I had. Worked out fine.), nicely browned bacon (no prosciutto this time), hard-boiled egg on hers and caramelized onion on mine. Wound up not using any cheese since my girlfriend says the provolone smells funny and didn't want any in the sauce. I mixed some into my portion later. Heh. Then it's rolling time. With my girlfriends portion I relearned that they can be over loaded pretty easily. A bunch came out the end, but most stayed in. With mine I learned that less filling makes it much easier to roll. Well, I had figured that would be the case anyway, but now I have experimented so I have actual evidence. This time I got pictures of the tying too since my girlfriend was around and could lend a hand with it. First, a toothpick to hold it closed while I fiddled with twine. With these smaller ones I just used three ties. Two lengthwise and one around the middle. With the lengthwise ones I pushed the ends of the meat in a bit so the twine would hold them closed. Worked out pretty well, if I do say so myself. Now it's just brown and simmer in sauce for several hours. These ones were in the sauce for almost 3 hours and still could have had more time. Apparently they were a different cut of beef than the last time. They still came out wicked good though. Here is what my girlfriends looked like when it was done. Heh, she was having a hard time holding herself back to take pictures at this point. I had to slap her hands several times when she reached for it. I couldn't get a decent picture of mine since I'm still learning how to use this camera, accidentally changed a setting and didn't notice till too late. But here is one that has been heavily doctored so you can at least tell what it is. So there you go, that's how I made individual braciole. I recommend doing this yourself, they are really, really good. Interesting side note: I haven't gotten a single hit for "braciole" from search engines. But "bracciole", the incorrect spelling, gets around a dozen hits a week from google. Apparently I'm not the only one who can't spell.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Experiment: Easy Apple Pie-lettes

1 tube crescent rolls
1-2 cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1/2-1 tsp cinnamon
1/4-1/2 tsp nutmeg
2-3 tsp brown sugar

Preheat oven per package instructions. Mix together the apple, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar. Let macerate for 20 minutes. Unroll the crescent rolls and put about 1-2 tbls of apple mixture on the wide end. Fold the two short corners over the apple, then fold the long end over that and back over itself. Brush the tops with the liquid from the maceration. Repeat with all the rolls. Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake till golden brown. Serve hot.


Here's a quickie for you folks. My girlfriend bought a tube of crescent rolls a while ago and I wanted to do something a bit different with them. Since we still had some apples leftover from her apple picking expedition, I whipped these up. They came out pretty good, but next time I want more filling. I was afraid of overloading them, but I don't think I needed concern myself. So when I make these again I will probably double the amount you see here.

So, first I chopped, cored and peeled an apple. I used one and had some leftovers (which I ate with a spoon. Mmmm.), but like I said I didn't fill them too full. I chopped the apple pretty small, since the rolls aren't too big. You could probably even do this by wrapping the dough around one big slice of apple, I'll have to try that next time. I tossed in some cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar. Mixed it up and let it macerate for a while. Then I unrolled a roll, dolloped some apple in it and folded one corner, then the other and finally the long end over that and back on itself. It makes a nice little package. I put them on a parchment lined baking sheet and brushed them with the liquid leftover from the maceration. They could have used more of this too. Maybe brush some on the long section before folding it back... hm. I'll have to do more experiments and do another post. Heh, how tragic. Anyway, I then cooked them according to the package instructions. Pulled them out when they were golden brown and ate them. They were quite good, the only complaint was we wanted more apple. I think a little cream cheese might have been good too, maybe some kind of berry. Anyway, there you go. Little pie-lette things.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Experiment: Cheesy Vegetable Shepherds Pie... Casserole... Thing.

3-4 cups mashed potatoes
1 cup corn
1 cup peas
1 cup carrots
1/2 cup chopped pepper
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1/4-1/2 cup milk
1 tbls butter
1 tbls flour
1/4 cup (or more) block cheddar cheese, cut into 1/4" thick matchsticks
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4-1/2 tsp tarragon
1/4-1/2 tsp marjoram
1/4-1/2 tsp rosemary
1/4-1/2 tsp sage
1/4 tsp thyme
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper

Note: All measurements here are approximate. I didn't actually measure anything.

Preheat the oven to 400. Brown the onions in a saute pan with the butter, over medium-high heat, being careful not to burn them. Add the garlic and saute till aromatic. Add the vegetables and seasonings. Saute till heated through. Add the flour, combine it thoroughly and let the mixture cook for a couple minutes, stirring frequently. Add the broth and milk. Let cook till thick, about 3-4 minutes. Pour mixture into a casserole dish and cover it evenly with the mashed potatoes. Run a fork gently over the mashed potatoes to make ridges. Stud the potatoes with the cheese sticks. Put in the oven and bake till golden and bubbly, about 30 minutes.

Ok, I've been trying to eat more vegetables. But for the most part, frozen veggies are what we have on hand. And I don't really like them, too squishy. So I need recipes that we like that use them so we don't die of malnutrition. So that means, pretty much, casseroles. Now I like casseroles, don't get me wrong. But most of them are A) wicked fatty (not bad in and of itself, but, you know... fat.) B) full of cheese, which my girlfriend doesn't really like and C)... well, there isn't really a C. Ok, there was a point to this whole rambling intro, but I don't really remember what it was. Basically I wanted to make a vegetable shepherds pie. I figured it could be a side dish or a main dish and it would be good. And it was. One kind of weird thing did happen though. Most of the gravy wound up being absorbed by or mixing with the potatoes, or something like that. So what it was was a layer of browned potato, a layer of super creamy, smooth, rich potato then a layer of seasoned veggies. Not that that was bad, mind you. It was wicked good. Just unexpected.

I made the gravy a milk gravy to give it a little extra richness, but you could use all broth if you want. You could also easily add some ground beef to make it a standard shepherds pie, or add some mushrooms, broccoli, zucchini or beans if you wanted to keep it vegetarian but make it heartier (heartier than a casserole dish full of mashed potatoes that is). It would have been good with chicken in it too. And bacon.

So first brown the onions. I browned them up pretty dark for this, I wanted some good caramelized flavor and nice fond since I was making gravy. When they are done, add the garlic and stir it around for 30 seconds or so, till it stops smelling quite so sharp. Don't get a picture of it though, since I forgot to. Heh. Now toss in the veggies. I did it with them still frozen and it worked out fine. Stir them around to defrost, then add the spices. Now sprinkle on the flour. I saw the guy from Cooking for Engineers do this and it seemed like it would be much easier than making a roux and dealing with that. Mix in the flour and let it cook for a bit to get rid of the raw flour taste. Then deglaze with the broth. Scrape the bottom a bit, then add the milk. You could use cream here instead of milk if you are feeling naughty. Now let it simmer, stirring occasionally till it's thickened a bit. It should only take a minute or two. Pour that into a casserole dish. Now top it with mashed potatoes. Mmmm, mashed potatoes. I love mashed potatoes. Spread them evenly over the top, then run a fork over it to make these cool ridges. Not only does it make it look fancy (well, it does if you do a better job than I did) but it also makes it brown better. And that's key to these kinds of things living up to their potential. Browning that is. Now here is a cool thing I started doing a while ago when I was making something else topped with mashed potato. Instead of sprinkling on shredded cheese, I cut big slivers of it off a block and poked into the top. Leave about half of it sticking out. Now when it cooks it gets little pools of browned, melted goodness on top and veins of cheese running through the potatoes. It's some wicked good stuff there. I only did half with cheese so my girlfriend could eat it too, but if everyone you are cooking for likes cheese then just go nuts with it. Now toss it into you 400 degree oven for a half an hour or so. Take it out when it is bubbly, golden and spectacular. See what the cheese does? Pretty cool, huh? Tastes good too. Now dish it up and eat it.


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