Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Turkey Pot Pie

Post-holiday, I found myself felled by a stomach virus and a chest cold courtesy of whatever germ stew had been brewing up at preschool the week before. After a couple days of not eating, you tend to get hungry, cautiously hungry. Comfort food is in order. Though, I have to admit, it was tough rallying myself up to create a recipe.

We cooked a turkey for Christmas, and I had about a pound of meat left once I pulled it off the bones. I wanted something more substantial than soup, but not too much. Pot pie. What's great about this recipe is that, unlike it's .99 cent foil-cupped Banquet brethren, you could actually serve this to company. For that, thank the herbs, fresh ingredients and the puff pastry top. If you are still tired of turkey post-Thanksgiving, just bookmark this one for next year's leftovers.

Before the recipe, a note on puff pastry. It is much easier to buy this prepared. Read the label. I had to search for "real" stuff that does not contain HFCS, trans fats and wheat gluten. Try a Whole Foods or similar store. The common brand you find at most grocery stores contains the bad ingredients.

Upscale Turkey Pot Pie
2 large parsnips, peeled and diced fine (1/4 inch dice)
5 carrots, peeled and diced fine
2 leeks, white and lightest green parts, rinsed well, chopped
1 small shallot, diced
8 oz. button mushrooms, cleaned, remove tough stems, chop the tops
2 large sprigs rosemary
4 sprigs thyme
3-1/2 cups chicken broth
1 lb. diced, cooked turkey
3 tbs. butter
1 tbs. olive oil
4 tbs. flour
1 tsp. salt (or to taste)
black pepper to taste
1 box puff pastry, thawed

Place carrot and parsnip in a pot with 1-1/2 cups chicken broth. Bring to boil and simmer for about 20 minutes until tender crisp. No mushy veggies, not even in pot pie. Meanwhile, melt 3 tbs. butter in another sauce pan. Add the mushrooms, leeks, shallot, herbs and 1 tbs. olive oil. Saute until leeks are translucent and mushrooms are cooked. Add flour and saute for a couple minutes to cook the flour. Add 2 cups stock and stir until thickened.

Drain the carrots and parsnips, reserving the cooking liquid. Add the carrots and parsnips to the mushroom mixture, plus 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. (I drank the extra cooking liquid. It was very tasty and seemed like a good snack for a tired stomach.) Add the chopped turkey. Bring to a simmer and allow to thicken. Add the salt and pepper, taste and adjust.

Transfer mixture to a 2 qt. souffle dish. Heat oven to 375. Roll the puff pastry sheet out to a square. Cut to fit the round souffle dish with 1 inch of overhang. Place dough on top of souffle dish, fitting to the sides. Cut a small "x" in the center to vent steam. Place dish on a baking sheet (who needs to clean the oven if it boils over a bit?).

Bake at 375 for about 15-20 minutes until the top is puffed and deep golden brown. As for the leftover puff pastry, you can roll it into rectangles, put dark chocolate squares in the center, fold, seal and bake. Serve these with ice cream for an easy, elegant finish.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Humbug ... Humbled.

The season, or subzero weather, is wearing on me a bit. At this point, it's like, hurry up and bring on the fun part already.

For starters, I don't think I can listen to the "chickamunk" song one more time. Again.

My child burst out the eff word today. She must have gotten it from The Grinch. Or Daddy. All are on the naughty list.

In an email I got from Healthy Toys.org, I learned the ballerina Barbie my kid wanted (and I gave in on) has a dress tainted with a high level of mercury. Thanks, Mattel. Scrooge you.

After schleping through the store to find a less toxic cheap plastic crap item, I arrived at school late to get the kid. At this point the Ghost of Christmas Past arrived. The Kiddo looked up and said, "Mommy, my stomach hurts." Next thing I know, we're both covered in barf. This would be the second year of the last four she's gotten stomach flu just before Christmas.

I am wondering, as I type, just how long until my Christmas Present of stomach flu arrives. Could it possibly be when the 20-plus people invade our house for dessert tomorrow? Oh, joy.

Still, could be worse. I watched the clip on the news of people walking out of a closing GM plant, all jobless. Crashes, deaths, mayhem followed that news item.

We're together, warm, healthy (mostly). What's there not to be grateful for there?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Spring Dreams

Some people dream about dancing sugar plums (what IS a sugar plum?), me, I get all hot and bothered when my rareseeds.com catalog arrives. Ah, seed porn.

Even if I don't grow it, I do buy it. And I buy the unusual stuff. See, by the miracle of my new catalog, I now know that the cool purple pea pods I got last summer are Moonshadow Hyacinth Beans. Sounds cool, huh? I also know that I should not buy the older beans or dry ones as they could be poisonous. Good to know.

In the interest of transparency, I need to mention that I kill every houseplant I have. Well, HAD. My small entry into container vegetable gardening managed to survive and bring forth a bit of produce. I am hardly a budding farmer, or even a bud farmer.

Somehow, though, by my own stupidity, I am now on a planning committee for a community garden and possibly a planning committee for an urban farm tour. Just hope they don't let me near their houseplants. Green houses don't count as houseplants, do they?

Tune in for posts on the pursuit of a community garden and how tos, plus my other 2009 activities. I declared 2009 the "Year of Involvement." I plan on taking the local food thing outside my own kitchen and into the community through a few projects.

I hope 2009 includes some extra days outside the standard 365. I am going to need them.

Ho, Ho, Oh Boy.

If I had to pick a favorite Christmas song, it's a toss up between John Lennon's "Happy Christmas" and Mel Torme's "Chestnut" song. I can't help but sing along when either is on. It's not a good thing. Instead of the back up vocals and harmony part from the back seat, I get:

"Mommy, don't sing. But I love you anyway."

We also watched this year's line of the Christmas shows, amazing they've lasted since I was a kid. Despite all the snow and winter scenes of the workshop, some of it just didn't stick. The kiddo was explaining Santa to a friend. "Santa lives at the North Pool. That's where we go swimming when we visit." Only if it's indoor and heated, Kiddo.

Next bright idea of my season was to go for the Santa photo. Usually, this is okay. But this year, the operation was being run by the Misfit Toys and Santa might have had a sketchy past even if the beard was real. Later, in the car, my child observes, "Mommy, Santa is weird."

"Yes, honey, that one was. Sometimes Santa has helpers for things like photos and it's not the real Santa." I said, in an effort to preserve some of the magic.

"Why was that Santa weird?" she asked.

"Well, honey, it's hard to get good help these days, even for Santa."

Tonight capped off the run up to Christmas, surely, though. We went with friends to see a large-scale puppet show of the nativity. I was thinking little puppets, no problem. It was like eight-foot tall puppets sitting on top of the human puppeteer, and kind of scary looking ones at that. My kid freaks out on the Easter Bunny and anything in a costume. Imagine 14-foot tall camels coming up the church aisle next to her. I could feel her quivering as she hid her face from it all. Great, I think we may have just traumatized her into being a Buddhist. So be it.

Not that we had made a concerted effort at organized religion before. I just thought it might be nice for her to think about Christmas some way other than chilling by the North Pool with Santa. Even if he is weird.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas Brunch: Herbed Waffles with Smoked Salmon

We'll be serving Christmas brunch this year. I want to serve something special, but not have to work that hard. By the time we make Christmas Eve dinner and survive the holiday events leading up to Christmas, well, let's keep it simple.

This dish is similar to one I had at a favorite breakfast place with the best ever scones. The place closed, but not because of the food quality. I miss the scones terribly and decided to make my own version of the smoked salmon recipe.

Smoked Salmon on Herb Waffle with Creme Fraiche
for the waffles
1 and 3/4 cup cake flour (not self rising)
1 tbs. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 cup cream
3/4 cup lowfat milk
1/2 cup canola oil
1 tsp. dijon mustard
2 tbs. chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus 1 tbs. for garnish
2 tbs. chopped dill, plus 1 tbs. for garnish
1 tbs. chopped chives, plus 2 tsp. for garnish
pepper to taste

For the rest of the dish
12 oz. smoked salmon
6 oz. roasted tomatoes (recipe) (or sundried, packed in oil, or in the Whole Foods cheese aisle)
3 cups mesclun (spring mix) greens
6 oz. creme fraiche (or sour cream)

For the waffles, sift together the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center of the bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs then add the cream, milk and oil and mustard. Whisk well. Stir in the chopped herbs, reserving the others for garnish. Add a few grinds of pepper and whisk.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, mixing just until incorporated, do not overmix. Cook about 3/4 cup of batter in a round, belgian-style waffle maker for each waffle. The recipe should make at least six waffles with a "spare" just in case.

To serve, place the warm waffle on a plate, top each with 1/2 cup greens, then 1 oz. tomatoes, then 2 oz of slices of smoked salmon. Add a dollop of the creme fraiche and garnish with the reserved chopped herbs.

Main Dishes for Brunch
Shirred Eggs
Breakfast Panini
Hashbrown, Chard, Tomato and Ham Frittata

Breads, Pancakes and Waffles
Orange Brioche French Toast with Bananas Foster
Pumpkin Gingerbread Waffles

Salads (Seasonal)
Red Wine Poached Pear with Arugula
Clementine, Fennel and Pomegranate
Arugula Salad with Bleu Cheese Crostini, Roasted Pears and Grapes and Honey-Wine Syrup
Red, Gold and Orange Festive Salad

Poundcake with Blackberry Wine Sauce and Honey Chocolate Ganache
Assorted Christmas Cookies

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Cookie Carnival (Recipe Carnival)

Shopping? Um, almost done.
Santa Visit? Done.
Wrapping? Um, almost done.
Cards? Done.
Baking? Oh yeah! I was supposed to bake!

This week's recipe carnival will help the rest of us who have not yet rolled dough for the season. For my own entry, here are tips on making gingerbread houses with your kids and tips on baking cookies with kids.

And here are the Cookie and Dessert recipes:

Appetizers and Party Food

Off the Menu (miscellaneous entries)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Gingerbread Saga Continues

Less than a week after moving into the new subdivision, pieces of their house mysteriously disappeared and the inhabitants fell victim to some kind of savage attack.

Perhaps some new neighbors will move in as I am hosting the Christmas Cookie-theme Recipe Carnival this weekend. Submit your recipes.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Christmas Brunch: Pumpkin Gingerbread Waffles

I caught the Kiddo trying the bite the whole corner off the gingerbread house today. Perhaps I should make another batch of these waffles.

Pumpkin Gingerbread Waffles
Sift together:
1 cup cake flour (not self-rising)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/8 tsp. nutmeg or mace
1/8 tsp. cloves (ground)
1/8 tsp. salt

Mix the wet ingredients in a separate bowl:
1 cup evaporated milk
1/2 tsp. orange extract
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 tbs. black strap molasses
1 tbs. canola oil
1 egg, beaten

Make a well in the dry ingredients. Add the liquid and just mix until incorporated. Heat waffle iron and spray with cooking spray. Makes about 4 round Belgian-style waffles.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Helpful Hints from the Holiday Masochist's Notebook: Gingerbread Houses

I have no idea where the Kiddo saw a gingerbread house before, but it happened, and of course, she asked if we could build one, and of course, I agreed. And I asked her best friend to join the fun.

This is the innocent beginning to the tale of two four-year-olds (nearly), faulty construction, a long day, and lots of sugar. And an important lesson. The tale starts here, with a gingerbread house kit that proclaimed it included cutters and everything you need, except, oh, candy, and actual house piece cutters. It had gingerbread man cutters. Homeless gingerbread man cutters with no home cutters. But I will get there.

I was okay with the whole mix, figuring the recipe must be extra hard cookies for housebuilding, which is not my favorite kind of gingerbread. This part worked. I never use mixes for anything we're actually going to eat.

What didn't work, was that this kit required you to cut patterns of dough for the house by using the box (still assembled). You can't take apart the box because you use it later as a base for your house. You have to wrestle the box onto the dough and guess at the cutting where the house is still attached. Small children should not attend this part due to language expressed by cook.

Step One, Making the House Structure:
  1. The dough has to be very well chilled, adding 2-3 hours to the schedule
  2. You will need parchment paper to lift the pieces up and flip onto the tray so that the large, floppy pieces of dough sort of stay the right shape. Sort of.
  3. When you bake them, they swell up and stick together at the edges and lose the shape.
  4. You will need lots of cooking spray and lots of cookie trays. Like five trays.
  5. You will then have to match the pieces up and trim them as best you can back to a usable shape.
  6. Overbake the dough to make sure it is crisp and will stand up
  7. This process takes a few hours, your child will not stick around for this. You probably want to spend the hours of prep yourself and include your child at the assembly point.
  8. Who the hell is going to entertain your child for hours? Ah yes, invite a friend over. This does require assembly of not one, but two houses.
  9. The best part of the kit is the house to stick the cookie to so it stays upright.
Lessons for Step One:
  1. This is not the beginner house kit I would choose.
  2. With a young child, I would likely opt for a kit of all the pieces pre-cut and baked ready to assemble. Yes, I said it. Pre-made. It's not like you are going to eat the thing after it sits out getting stale. But, I bet the candy gets picked off ...
  3. To make my own, I would recommend baking forms that help the dough keep it's shape and keep you from having to make your pattern, stretch the dough, retrofit the dough, etc. These cost a bit, so be sure you want to do this activity again.
  4. I had to pull out the big-dog marble pin to work that dough. Good equipment helps.
  5. Good equipment is not included in the kit.
  6. If you want to feel like a total failure, look at books like these before you build a first one. Martha-effing-Stewart couldn't pull one of those off even if she does grow her own ginger for the dough.

Step Two: Assembly of the House
  1. The kit comes with royal icing mix, which is the right type of icing for the job
  2. The icing tastes like sugary plaster, which is kind of the point
  3. It's made from sugar, egg white powder (be warned of egg allergies), and water
  4. Really mix the stuff on high until it has the consistency of sugary plaster
  5. The cheap triangle-shape piping bag included is a weapon of mass frustration. Recycle it promptly before use. I used a real decorating kit, and that was the smartest move I made all day. The dumbest move all day was grinding up the plastic collar piece in the garbage disposal.

Step Two Lessons:
  1. Kids can help with the assembly part, Age four and above is best.
  2. You really can't fill some things in with frosting later. Like inch gaps.
  3. Faulty construction is a problem even for tiny houses.
  4. The cardboard box form was the best part of the kit here.
  5. Royal icing may just work for caulking the bathtub.
Step Three, Decorating. Or, the part where your child eats all the candy:
  1. If the candy isn't included, and it wasn't, get different shapes and a good variety
  2. Plan on twice as much as you need to decorate the house, it disappears
  3. Don't get your expectations set on a cross between Gourmet and Architectural Digest here.
  4. Pre-load the quality pastry bag with frosting. Set out bowls of the candy, fingers will be too sticky reaching into a bag to get it.

Step Three Lessons:
  1. This is the step where most kids have fun and want to "start" the project.
  2. Before your young child touches it, it already looks like a pre-K art project, don't get anal about the perfect design.
  3. Make sure your kid had a decent lunch, cause the rest of the day is blown nutritionally at this point.
  4. Screw Martha Stewart. With all due respect.
  5. When done, don't move the thing until the icing sets. It will. Boy, will it ever.
Biggest lesson? It's the journey here. Unless you plan on making this a hobby, it's really about having fun and enjoying the experience, making a fun activity with your child. Your child will be proud of the result. A house! Out of cookies! Even if you are considering enrollment in a remedial course in construction using Lincoln Logs. Just chill (both you and the dough) and have fun. Get crazy with the frosting. Eat the jelly beans. Sing sappy Christmas songs (but not "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer," that's just plain bad music). Play now. Vacuum later.

Seriously, the last thing I want my child to remember when she looks back on the holidays is Mommy being a perfectionist. Ornaments she can't touch, cookies that aren't good enough for company, perfect decorating she can't help with, color-coordinated Christmas trees, sterile, all-white lights because those are classy. Grouchy, yelling mom trying to make the house perfect to impress all-important guests and strangers even as she makes the family miserable.

That's not Christmas. That's the ghost of my Christmas past. It will not be Christmas present or future.

Frosting wars. Occasional sugar-highs. Wobbly gingerbread houses. Laughter. Messes. Things that break sometimes. Gingerbread men with extra "parts" (yes, my brother, that one is for you).

Baby, that's Christmas. That is definitely Christmas. And I am all about that.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

But, I Am Still Full ...

The holidays keep rolling. So do I after all the pie.

We've been living on leftovers at The Kitchen. It's given my "dishpan hands" time to recover with the 14 hours of cooking before Thanksgiving. Two days before the holiday dinner, I had a wisdom tooth pulled and a raging sinus infection. By Friday, I was beat up. Frankly, I needed a break!

So, I got a day off ... heh. But now it is back at it to plan for the gingerbread houses, cookies, and Christmas dinner-lunch-brunch, and New Year's appetizers ahead. Look for all these recipes to come starting with the Red Wine Poached Pear Salad posted yesterday.

If you have a particular menu type you are trying to plan, leave me a comment, and I will do my best to post a recipe for it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Red Wine Poached Pear Christmas Salad

Pumpkin and apples may be the flavors of Thanksgiving, but it's pears that grace the Christmas lore and table.

To give the holiday dinner some festive color, the pears in this salad are first poached in red wine and spices. The deep scarlet color set off against peppery arugula make a perfect Christmas dinner salad.

You don't have to tell anyone it's easy, either.

Red Wine Poached Pear Salad
For the Pears
3 large winter pears, peeled, halved and cored, sliced lengthwise
2 cups red table wine or Cabernet
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
4 Szechuan peppercorns (optional, available Penzeys.com)
1 tbs. sugar

For the Salad
4 cups arugula
3 tbs. honey
1/4 cup total of sliced almonds, walnuts and pecans
3 oz. bleu cheese crumbles
2 tsp. lemon juice

Heat the wine, sugar, lemon juice and spices in a sauce pot. Add the sliced pears, cover pot, leaving partially uncovered. Simmer for 40 minutes. Let cool. Remove pears and spices. Place pot back on heat and reduce to a thick syrup.

When pears are room temperature, slice and arrange on top of arugula. Drizzle on the red wine syrup and honey. Sprinkle with bleu cheese and the nuts.