27 November 2008

Thanks...giving...and cooking

Ian and I decided to try the free range organic turkeys available from the Moscow Co-Op (despite the price tag--I think I actually yelled "HOLY SHIT!!" in the checkout line) and we were not disappointed. The meat was really juicy and flavorful, and the texture was more....something than those turkeys you can pick up at any supermarket.

This year, like last year, I was in charge of cooking the full meal. Ian's parents had suggested eating at the local Idaho Thanksgiving meal in a hotel, and my Chicago sensibilities wouldn't let that happen. The year I did eat at the Thanksgiving feed I wanted to die...or find a hole in which to stuff the disgusting plate before me. I can't eat at a makeshi(f)t Thanksgiving, and I'd rather cook.

I boil my potatoes in chicken broth for flavor and reserve some liquid for the mashing process, and this year, since I overcalculated the amount of whipping cream I would need, I used up the rest in my mashed potatoes. I added the butter and all ingredients, Ian mashed...I let him take the credit... Marriage is about sacrifice, no?

I love making my own cranberry sauce (as compared to that jelly-like can concoction people often serve) and this recipe also requires no definite measurements. For every 12 ounces of cranberries, add 1/2 cup of sugar and a 1/2 cup of orange juice. Simple and tastes like cranberry...

I also made my mother's (er, grandmother's) stuffing, which technically isn't a stuffing since it isn't cooked inside the bird. I have long feared food poisoning since my little brother contracted salmonella from White Castle, and thus I cook everything with reservation and anal retentive care. My grandmother's stuffing is very dense, so it doesn't come out soupy like many dressing recipes:

1 lb. ground pork
Lots and lots of celery leaves (not celery, LEAVES--it's where the flavor comes from)
1 or two stalks of celery, finely chopped
2 loaves of white bread (I use whole grain white bread)
Lots and lots of sage (no measurement here--make it fragrant, make it abundant)
Black pepper (I like fresh ground black pepper and lots of it)
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk (or more depending on consistency)
2 tbl. butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and coat a casserole dish with cooking spray. Tear bread into large pieces (sans crust) and then set aside. Fry up pork in a skillet, and once it browns, add celery leaves. Add celery pieces a few minutes later, then sage. Cook until crackling, or cook the crap out of it. Remove from heat and cool.

Once pork mixture cools, combine bread with two eggs and milk, then add black pepper. Add pork mixture and combine by hand (using utensils just doesn't work) until fully mixed. Transfer to casserole pan, and cut butter strips on top. Cover and bake for 45 minutes, and then uncover for 10-15 minutes.

Sweet Potato Casserole--aka my reason for living

Every year I end up Bogarting the sweet potatoes, and this is my favorite recipe for performing this action. YUM!

4 cups sweet potatoes, boiled or baked (I bake for the best taste)
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/4 tsp. salt (optional)
4 tbl. softened butter
1/4 to 1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup flour
3 tbl. softened butter
3/4 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. If you're cooking a turkey, it should already be at this point. Cook a casserole dish with cooking spray. Mash cooked sweet potatoes with the eggs, salt (optional--I rarely do include salt), butter, evaporated milk and vanilla extract. Mix thoroughly and add to casserole dish.

The butter should be soft but not liquid. Mix all ingredients except pecans together first, then add pecans. Cover the sweet potatoes in the casserole dish with the topping.

Cover and bake for twenty to thirty minutes, then remove cover for another ten minutes. Cool and serve.

Roasted Butternut Squash

16 oz. cubed raw butternut squash
2 tbl. olive oil
3 tbl. panko
1 tbl. fresh chopped Italian parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place butternut squash in a casserole dish and add ingredients in order, stirring with a spatula. Bake covered for fifteen minutes and remove cover for ten additional minutes, or until squash is tender.

Fancy Green Beans

1/2 lb. fresh French green beans (substituting others is fine)
1 tbl. walnut oil
3 tbl. sunflower kernels
1 tbl. Romano cheese in strips

Heat oil in a skillet and add green beans. Saute for two minutes and add sunflower kernels, and saute for an additional minute. Remove from heat. Add to serving platter to cool and shave Romano cheese on top of dish.

16 November 2008

The quest for the perfect yogurt

I hate yogurt. I hate the pseudo sophisticated blends I find at Safeway, I hate the "go-gurts" that have recently popped up in response to other consumers hating yogurt, I hate the tubs of bitter yogurt found in discount shopping markets.

I love Greek yogurt. I love the thick consistency, the rich flavor, the depth it adds to baked goods, and most of all, I miss having access to it. For a long time I didn't have ready access to it--graduate school isn't exactly conducive to luxury items. Once I found Fage at a reasonable rate (nonfat for me--my stomach can't take the full fate version) I also discovered the wealth of yogurt possibilities on the refrigerated shelves of the Moscow Co-Op.

I have decided I'm in love with the Rachel's line of yogurt. The co-op doesn't carry all of the awesome flavors they have to offer, but the best ones I've tried so far are the Plum Honey Lavender (not much honey, but the plum is pretty prominent and the lavender lives up to its designation as an "essence") and the Pomegranate Blueberry, which surprisingly and despite the two dominant flavors provides an excellent combination of pomegranate and blueberry. It isn't quite as thick as I like, but the lavender yogurt is like crack for me.

I also found amongst the refrigerated shelves of the co-op something I should not have found: coconut milk yogurt. The folks at Turtle Mountain decided that yogurt made with coconut milk would rope me into an obsession, and it worked. I am IN LOVE with the passionate mango yogurt, and floored that it's often on sale. Thick with a stir-able consistency, it's perhaps my favorite yogurt at this point.

14 November 2008

Beer is still food, no?

With a full list of blog postings and an extraordinarily long list of academic challenges ahead of me, I decided to post on something fun this time around: beer. Really, who doesn't love beer? Okay, probably a lot of people, including me until a few years ago.

The first time I ever tasted beer, I thought it was the most horribly vile concoction brewed by humankind. It was the sixth grade, and I was spending the night at my best friend Tammy's house. Her mother and stepfather tended to put back the sauce quite a bit, so the ice cold cans of Coors Light in the salad crisper were always present in case of a sauce shortage. We each drank a can slowly....for four hours. I don't even think we finished them. The next day I woke up early, took an extra long shower, washed my clothes, brushed my teeth, flossed and gargled Listerine. Upon returning home to my mother, her first words to me after a quick sniff were "have you been drinking?" Yeah. My mother was (and probably still is) psychic. It was enough to scare me off beer until high school.

Years later, I adore trying new brews but I often tend to favor the sexy ones and shun those that remind me of the worst joke I heard repeated at least ten times when I lived in Oxford. My second night in Oxford, an older British gentleman recited this joke: what's the difference between American beer and having sex in a canoe? They're both fucking close to water.

It was funny the first time I heard it.

Ian and I are big fans of the beer selection at the Moscow Food Co-Op, and we have been trying new beers every Sunday (yes, Sunday for those already objecting) for sometime now.

First up is Ommegang Abbey Ale. Ian and I both agreed it's pleasant and light enough for a dinner, but it's a bit too fruity for many palates. It would go well with a pork dish, Ian insisted, so I'm willing to try it again. Not sure I'd order this in a pub, but I liked the classic packaging.

Next up is Ale to the Chief! After one of the most extraordinary election seasons in the history of this country, this is my favorite. I'm not biased at all... Ian and I have been following the election faithfully and obsessively, and when my friends called from Grant Park on November 4th screaming messages of hope, joy and victory, I felt it was finally time to celebrate American (I don't do this much in my profession). I would recommend Ale to the Chief in a pub, but I can't say I would recommend drinking it with dinner. It's very heavy and very hoppy but completely worth the pucker face.

By the way, for all you Pullmanites, those glasses are in fact Pullman Lentil Festival pint glasses. Yes, for those of you not in Pullman, we "boast" a Lentil Festival. Not a joke, but I wish it was.