Birthday Cake

Before


Maya requested carrot cake for her birthday party. She loves carrot cake and chocolate cake about equally. Last month was her Uncle Steve’s birthday, and as Steve had chocolate cake, she wanted carrot. I thought about buying one at the bakery, but decided the best way to go was going to be homemade, because there is THE family carrot cake recipe.

This is what we call “Mother Thomas’s Carrot Cake”, because it is the carrot cake made by Ted’s Grandmother Thomas. It’s from a cookbook, which I believe was part of a woman’s auxiliary, and that’s all I know. My ‘chili relleno’ recipe is from the same cookbook.

I was reading online about carrot cake, and they seem to call for a LOT of oil. One recipe I read, there was a comment where someone said that they found that sometimes carrot cake tasted oily to them, so they substituted 1/2 cup of buttermilk for 1/3 of the oil, with very good results. I’m game, but also chicken, so I decided to make a test run. On the Wednesday before the party, I made a carrot cake, and frosted it, and we tried it. It’s delicious! Then Ted packed the rest of it up and took it to work with him, and his coworkers scarfed down the rest. He even cut it up nicely so they didn’t have to see that they weren’t getting the entire cake. It got rave reviews at work. These pictures are from her actual birthday party yesterday.

After


If you need a carrot cake recipe in your life, and trust me, you do, here is a definite winner.

Mother Thomas’s Carrot Cake
Ingredients
1 1/2 cup corn oil *
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 cups flour
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp soda (clearly they mean baking soda)
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
1 7-oz box coconut
2 cups shredded carrots
1 cup chopped nuts (I used pecans, which I toasted for a few minutes)
1 can (8 3/4 oz) crushed pineapple and juice (clearly sizes have changed. I only found 8oz cans.)

Sift together dry ingredients, and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, mix together oil and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat well. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Fold in coconut, carrots, nuts, and pineapple. Pour into lightly greased and floured 10×15-inch pan.**. Bake at 350F for 45 minutes. When cool, frost with Cream Cheese Frosting. Yields 16 to 20 slices.

* I suspect you could try any kind of oil you want. I would suggest a neutral oil, like peanut, but I did see a comment that said, once you try olive oil carrot cake, you’ll never go back. I haven’t tried this. Also, I used 1 cup oil and 1/2 cup buttermilk.

** I wanted a two layer round cake, so I used two 8″ round cake pans instead. I thought it would be ready much faster that way, but I think it turned out to be about 45 minutes. I just kept an eye on it after the 30 minute mark.

Cream Cheese Frosting
ingredients
2 3-oz pkg cream cheese (again, sizes have changed. I used 1 8oz pkg.)
1 box (1 lb) powdered sugar
1 stick soft margarine (I used butter)
1/2 tsp vanilla

Mix all ingredients with electric mixer until very creamy and smooth.

The Recipe

Bitter

Clinton Cookies

Clinton Cookies*

These were supposed to be our victory cookies, based on a recipe from the 1992 Presidential election, when Hillary Clinton made a comment on the Today show that she supposed she could have stayed home and baked cookies, but instead she continued her law career.  She was slammed, with the assumption being that she held contempt for stay-at-home moms, that she thought their life was simply baking cookies and drinking tea.  She quickly fell in line, doing the politically expedient thing and entering a cookie recipe in the Family Circle baking contest, a First Lady challange that survives to this day.

I decided it would be symbolic of how far we’ve come to bake a batch of her cookie recipe.  I baked some on Saturday and sent them to my Grandma and Great Aunt, who were SO EXCITED about this victory.  I baked the rest for us yesterday.  I made one small change, in that I used butter instead of shortening.  I’m not enough of a baker to know how the shortening ones would have turned out, but I looked at both oatmeal and chocolate chip cookie recipes, and both seemed to generally call for butter.  

And now, here we are. President Trump. It sticks in my throat and gave me nightmares last night. I cannot believe we are here. I cannot believe our next President will be a man with zero political experience, who denies climate change in the face of all evidence, who says and does the things he says and does. It is a bitter pill to swallow.

Anyway, since I had it ready to post yesterday, here is Hillary Clinton’s recipe.

Hillary Clinton’s Chocolate Chips

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup solid vegetable shortening (I used butter)
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar (I used dark because we had it)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 12 oz semisweet chocolate chips

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease baking sheets (I used parchment paper instead, so the cookies wouldn’t spread as much.
  2. Combine flour, salt, and baking soda in a bowl.
  3. Beat together shortening (butter, room temperature), sugars, and vanilla in a large bowl with an electric mixer until creamy.  Add eggs, beating until light and fluffy.  Gradually beat in flour mixture and rolled Oates.  Stir in chocolate chips.  (Add some nuts if you’re baking for Grandma and Aunt Flo, omit if you’re baking for Ted and Maya.  Life is a little complicated sometimes.)
  4. Drop batter by well-rounded teaspoonfuls onto baking sheets.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden.
  5. Cool cookies on sheets for 2 minutes.  Remove to wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: 7 1/2 dozen cookies

* The Almond Joy is Maya’s superstitiouss move…she enjoyed an Almond Joy for Obama’s win in ’08

Eggs in Pepper Boats

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One of my Christmas gifts this year was a lovely cookbook, Heart and Soul in the Kitchen, by Jacques Pepin.  I’ve tried a few recipes from it, with various levels of success.  This recipe I consider an unqualified success, because it’s super delicious and relatively easy.  You cut a poblano pepper in half, simmer it a bit to soften it, then fill the cavity with a little cheese and an egg, and cook it (covered) until the egg is set to your liking.  It’s really good.  Depending on how hot the peppers are, it’s either spicy or not.  Poblano peppers are not terribly spicy anyway, but I’ve made this twice now, and there was definitely a difference in heat between the two.

Ted and cheese don’t get along as well as they used to, so I made this for him without any, which is clearly healthier anyway.  But not as tasty in my book. And I keep forgetting the cilantro. I’ll have to try it that way next time.

EGGS IN PEPPER BOATS

Yield: Serves 4

Ingredients
2 (4 oz each) banana, cubanelle or poblano peppers
4 extra-large eggs, preferably organic
6 tbsp grated cheddar cheese
4 tbsp water
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp fresh cilantro leaves (or as much as you prefer)

For the peppers: Split the peppers lengthwise in half and remove the seeds and the stems if you want. Arrange them cut-side down in a large skillet and add the oil, water and a ¼ teaspoon of the salt and cook, covered, over medium heat, turning occasionally, for about 4 minutes, or until the peppers are softened somewhat but still firm.

For the eggs: Remove the skillet from the heat and, if necessary, turn the peppers over so they are hollow-side up. Place the cheese in the peppers. Break an egg into each one and sprinkle the eggs with the remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt and the pepper.

Return the skillet to the stove, cover and cook over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, until the egg whites are set, but the yolks are still runny.

To serve: Transfer to plates, sprinkle with the cilantro and serve immediately.

Failure and Success

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Tuesday was Maya’s 20th Birthday, and also Spring Break for the elementary school where she works, so she didn’t have work that day. Spring Break at her college was last week, so she did have school, but she decided to play hooky and spend the day with us, her loving parents. I love this kid. (Not a kid at 20, but still MY kid)

We recently watched the movie “Chef” on HBO. Have you seen that movie? It’s really cute, about a chef in Los Angeles who is working for a restaurant that is uninspired and doesn’t allow him to showcase his creativity, and he ends up quitting his job, flying across the country, and starting up a food truck, driving across the country selling Cuban sandwiches. Maya decided that for her birthday, she wanted to go into San Francisco and get Cuban sandwiches. So she went online and found a place that gets fabulous reviews, which is in fact a corner store that also has a little sandwich area. So off we went. When we got there, we discovered that it wasn’t a traditional Cuban sandwich like you might get in Havana, but is instead a Torta Cubana, which has ham, cheese, mayonnaise, chorizo, chicken, pickled peppers, sour cream, fried egg, milanesa, avocado, and hot dog slices. Way too much, when what we were looking for has roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard on Cuban bread, which is buttered and grilled in a press, like a panini. Failure

So I looked on my phone, and found another restaurant, known for the Cuban version (rather than the Mexican Torta). We drove across town, and when we got there, discovered they had shut down, permanantly. Looked for another place, also shut down. Clearly, our internet research skills are lacking.Failure

Ted had to go to work that afternoon, so we found a sandwich shop near his office, and had a late lunch there. No Cubans in sight, but it was nice nonetheless. Since Maya was born in Philadelphia, I had the Philly Cheese, which was quite good. Success (at last)

After dropping Ted off at work, Maya and I went to the Legion of Honor, so we could see a lovely painting by Raphael, Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn. We do love the Legion of Honor…the views of San Francisco’s skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge, the smell of the sea, the gorgeous Cypress trees, and of course the beautiful paintings and sculptures. The current exposition is a collection of Pierre Bonnard’s paintings from around the world, which we very much enjoyed. Success

The following day, I saw a recipe online that looked pretty good to me, for Rajma, or Red Kidney Bean Curry, which popped up on Facebook, since I follow Smitten Kitchen there. In her post, she mentions a spice mixture that she found at Whole Foods and loved, and eventually figured out how to make herself. I thought that perhaps I might try it, and since sometimes spices in my cabinet can get a bit old, I’d just use the mix. So I went to the spice blend website, which said it was carried at both our local Whole Foods and at another local grocery store. So I went to Whole Foods (since I was in that neighborhood), and searched for the mix. Nope. Not in the Indian food section, nor in the spice section. I asked at customer service, and they said they had never heard of the brand. Sigh. So I went to the Indian spice shop across the street, where I was also out of luck. Failure I asked the woman at the spice shop, and she said the spices for Rajma are coriander, cumin, and garam masala. I had cumin at home that was fairly fresh, so I bought some coriander and garam masala and went on my way. I made the recipe for dinner and served it with rice, and it was delicious indeed. Ted said he could eat it every week, so I suspect I’ll be making it again soon. I varied the recipe in that I added a bit of garam masala, which the recipe did NOT call for, but the woman at the spice shop said it should. Really good. Success

Another recipe I tried this week was something that I saw on America’s Test Kitchen, which was lentils and rice with crispy onions, which included cumin and cinnamon. As they are known to do, America’s Test Kitchen tries the recipe several ways and tweaks it until they feel they have it just right. The recipe was supposed to be a pilaf type recipe, with tender lentils and fluffy rice, and crispy fried onions. When I made it, however, the rice came out gloppy and disgusting, and the flavors were blah. So Maya and I had bagels for dinner, and when Ted came home from work he had leftovers. Failure

Maya, as you know, has been attending our local community college for the last two years, in order to save money. Now she’s finishing up her Sophomore year, and is getting ready to transfer. She applied to one California State University, SF State (where Ted and I met!), and perhaps 6 University of California schools. She has heard from SF State, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Santa Cruz, and she is accepted to all three. YAY! She likely won’t hear from the others for a few more weeks. Her first and second choices are UC Berkeley and UC Davis, so we’re hoping for those. But if they don’t work out, she has some very good options to consider. Success!

Braised Short Ribs

Picture from ATK website, because I didn't take a picture of ours. The picture on the recipe is what inspired me to make the polenta.

Picture from ATK website, because I didn’t take a picture of ours. The picture on the recipe is what inspired me to make the polenta.

Two recipes in two days. Sorry. I like to keep a lot of recipes here, in addition to printing them up, so I can find them when I need them. The thing with America’s Test Kitchen recipes is that only the current season episodes are free. For past seasons, you have to pay for a subscription. So there’s a time limit on them. Best to write it down somewhere. For me, that’s here.

I saw the cooks on ATK make this beef stew the other day, and I was intruiged. I am not a big fan of beef bourgenion, or coq a vin, so I don’t know why I wanted to try this one, but I did. You braise beef short ribs in Chianti, and you do it in batches to effect the flavor of the sauce.

I ended up using 2 3/4 lbs of bone-in short ribs. I’m estimating that that meant about 1 1/2 lbs of meat, or maybe 2lbs, I’m not sure. I halved the rest of the recipe. I’m not sure how different it would taste with boneless, likely just as good, or else they would have made the recipe with bone in ribs. I kind of wish I had made the entire recipe, because it was really good and I wish we had leftovers. I served it with polenta, which I sometimes like and sometimes do not. This time I liked it a lot. Also peas and carrots. So, without further ado, here’s the recipe. If you’d like a cozy meal, give it a try (it was almost 80 degrees yesterday, so who knows what inspired me.)

TUSCAN-STYLE BEEF STEW/Braised Short Ribs
Ingredients
4 pounds boneless beef short ribs, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
Salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 (750-ml) bottle Chianti
1 cup water
4 shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise
2 carrots, peeled and halved lengthwise
1 garlic head, cloves separated, unpeeled, and crushed
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns, plus extra for serving
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons cornstarch

Instructions
1. Toss beef and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt together in bowl and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees.

2. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add half of beef in single layer and cook until well browned on all sides, about 8 minutes total, reducing heat if fond begins to burn. Stir in 2 cups wine, water, shallots, carrots, garlic, rosemary, bay leaves, cracked peppercorns, gelatin, tomato paste, anchovy paste, and remaining beef. Bring to simmer and cover tightly with sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil, then lid. Transfer to oven and cook until beef is tender, 2 to 2 1/4 hours, stirring halfway through cooking time.

3. Using slotted spoon, transfer beef to bowl; cover tightly with foil and set aside. Strain sauce through fine-mesh strainer into fat separator. Wipe out pot with paper towels. Let liquid settle for 5 minutes, then return defatted liquid to pot.

4. Add 1 cup wine and ground black pepper and bring mixture to boil over medium-high heat. Simmer briskly, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened to consistency of heavy cream, 12 to 15 minutes.

5. Combine remaining wine and cornstarch in small bowl. Reduce heat to medium-low, return beef to pot, and stir in cornstarch-wine mixture. Cover and simmer until just heated through, 5 to 8 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Serve, passing extra cracked peppercorns separately. (Stew can be made up to 3 days in advance.)

Onion Burgers

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photo from Cook’s Country website, because I neglected to take a picture of ours.

A few years ago, we tried a hamburger recipe that was inspired by an episode of Man vs Food, Louis’ Lunch Burger.  In that recipe, a bit of onion is smashed into the burgers before cooking, and then they are grilled on an antique grilling machine.  We don’t have an antique grilling machine, just a grill, and when we made it, most of the onion fell between the grates, which was a shame because they looked good.

This weekend, Cook’s Country (do you watch cooking shows on PBS?  I love them) had a similar burger , which they said was from Oklahoma, and served at a hamberger joint on Route 66.  It’s similar in that it has onion smashed into one side of the burger before cooking.  It’s different in that it’s cooked in a non-stick pan on your stove.  I liked the look of that, so we had that for dinner last night.  The results are that it was a really good burger.  I think I’ll make my burgers the same way next time we have burgers, except maybe I’ll try one trick from the Louis’ Lunch Burger recipe, which was to use a combination of meats.  I had forgotten that when we made those burgers, we used 1/2 80% and 1/2 85%.  I think these would be even better that way.  The only changes we made from the Cook’s Country recipe are that their recipe makes 4 3oz burgers, and we made 3 4oz burgers, and I only used 1/2 of an onion, though it was a decently big (yellow) onion.

ONION BURGERS
adapted from Cook’s Country

Ingredients

1/2 large onion, halved and sliced 1/8 inch thick
Salt and pepper
6 ounces 85 percent lean ground beef
6 ounces 80 percent lean ground beef
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 slices Cheddar cheese (No cheese for Ted)
3 hamburger buns, buttered and toasted

Instructions

1. Combine onion and 1 teaspoon salt in bowl and toss to combine. Transfer to colander and let sit for 30 minutes, tossing occasionally. Using tongs, transfer onion to clean dish towel, gather edges, and squeeze onion dry. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon pepper.

2. Divide onion mixture into 3 separate mounds on rimmed baking sheet.  Mix two types of beef, then form into 3 lightly packed balls and season with salt and pepper. Place beef balls on top of onion mounds and flatten beef firmly so onion adheres and patties measure 4 inches in diameter.

3. Melt butter with oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Using spatula, transfer patties to skillet, onion side down, and cook until onion is deep golden brown and beginning to crisp around edges, 6 to 8 minutes. Flip burgers, increase heat to high, and cook until well browned on second side, about 2 minutes. Place 1 slice cheese on each bottom bun. Place burgers on buns, add desired toppings, and serve.

Friday Randomness

Have you seen the beautiful tribute to my first husband, David Bowie, at the BRIT awards?  This is the entire thing, I think, including a tribute by Annie Lennox, a tribute by Gary Oldmam, and a song by Lorde, backed up by performers who had worked with Bowie in the past.  I’ll confess, Lorde’s song brought me to tears.  I miss David Bowie being alive in the world.  It was a better place with him here.   Coming so soon after the Emmy awards, which included a tribute by Lady Gaga, of course invites comparison.  I’ll chime in and say that Gaga’s tribute left me feeling cold, didn’t move me at all.  Hers was an over the top performance, with her dressed to honor the glam rock Bowie from the 70s.  She did a fine job, but tried to squeeze in too many songs, and it sounded like she was trying to pitch her voice to match his.  Lorde instead did a straight up version of ‘Life on Mars?’ that was gorgeous and simple.  The video above is the whole BRIT tribute.  If you want to see just Lorde’s performance, it starts about 9 minutes in.

Speaking of Gaga, I read today that Joe Biden is going to introduce her at the Academy Awards on Sunday, where she will perform her Oscar nominated song about rape and sexual assult.  This comes in the wake of a court decision this week that Kesha, who was (allegedly) sexually assaulted by her producer, Dr. Luke, will not be released from her contract with Sony.  Kesha says she wants to break all ties with Luke, but Sony says they are unable to do so, because the contract belongs to Dr. Luke’s company, which has a deal with Sony.  What a mess.  This is just an injunction, however, and the actual trial hasn’t started yet.  So we’ll see whether she will be contractually required to create 4 more albums with her attacker.  I don’t know more about the case, but I’m glad it’s getting attention.  Sexual assult is hard to prove, and so often the blame is put on the victim.  We need to change that mentality.

How’s the weather where you are?  It’s stupidly gorgeous here, 70 degrees outside right now.  We’ve had a very dry February, though not as dry as recent years.  January was pretty wet, which was good, unless you live on a cliff in Pacifica.  But February is prime rainy season.  It’s not unheard of in an ‘el nino’ year for us to have a dry spell, so I’m hoping still for a wet March and maybe even April.  After that it pretty much dries up around here.  What we need are winter storms to drop a lot of moisture, and we’re just not getting that right now.  Ugh.

Did you watch ‘Freaks and Geeks‘ when it was on back in ’99-2000?   We did, though I think we missed it first run and watched in reruns.  The entire series (only 18 episodes) is available now on Netflix.  If you came of age in the early 80s, you should give yourself up to a good binge and watch the entire thing.  We just finished the other night, and it really held up well.

I thought the series finale of Downton Abbey was this coming Sunday, but maybe they didn’t want to go up against the Academy Awards.  It’s next week, March 6th.  We have the DVD, so we’ve watched already.  Clearly I’m not evil and I won’t spoil anything for you, but I will say I think they did a really nice job with it.

Do you like Spaghetti and Meatballs?  We do.  We’re especially fond of the recipe in my Alice Waters cookbook.  It’s fairly involved, though, and usually Ted makes the meatballs while I make the sauce and it’s a real team effort weekend type meal.  So I was happy the other day to see that Smitten Kitchen had an everyday meatball recipe.  And instead of serving it with pasta, she said maybe you might want to have it with garlic toast, as sort of an open face meatball sub.  So that’s exactly what we did, and gosh it was good.  I think I would have liked the sauce portion to be a bit more complex, maybe some onions or carrots or something in there, but for a quick sauce, it was quite good.  Happily, there are leftovers on the menu tonight.

Lastly in this rambling post, for some reason last night I was thinking about these TV dinners, Libbyland, we sometimes got when I was a kid, in Alaska.  They were made and marketed to kids, so there was a game or a puzzle or something on the box that you could occupy yourself with, there was a packet of Nestle Quick that you could mix with milk and have chocolate milk (maybe they even had strawberry milk with some meals, I’m not sure.)  TV dinners back then were cooked in the oven, and these for some reason often came with chocolate pudding, so that was hot.  Strange.  The food was definitely geared towards kids tastes, and was fairly gross.  But boy, I loved those things.  I think we would get those if my mom was going on a date, so not a nightly thing by any means.

 

Leftover Turkey Chili

We were lucky enough to have some leftover turkey after Thanksgiving. We had some delicious turkey soup one night, a few turkey sandwiches, and last, some turkey chili. I had considered turkey chili for dinner, and the recipe I generally use is good, and calls for ground turkey. But Ted suggested we might make a recipe with the leftover roast turkey. That seemed like a good idea to me, but I wasn’t sure the same recipe that starts with raw ground turkey would work well with roasted turkey leftovers. So I found this recipe on Foodnetwork. I measured and I only had 1 1/2 cups of turkey left, so I halved the recipe. I didn’t fancy the idea of mashed potatoes or rice, so I went old school and made corn bread instead. I served the chili over a bit of sharp cheddar cheese, with a dollop of sour cream on top, and a bit of avocado to make it even better. Delicious.

Leftover Turkey Chili
Ingredients
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 cups leftover roasted turkey meat, white and dark combined, chopped or pulled into 3/4-inch pieces
One 28-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Two 15-ounce cans pinto beans
Leftover mashed potatoes or cooked rice, for serving
Sour cream and chopped scallion, for serving

Directions
Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, about 6 minutes. Stir in the jalapeno and garlic and cook until they soften slightly, about 1 minute.

Stir in the chili powder, cumin, oregano, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Add the turkey and stir until well coated in the spices. Pour in the tomatoes and chicken broth and scrape up any spices that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Bring the chili to a simmer on medium-low and cook, uncovered, on until the liquid has reduced by a few inches and the chili has thickened, about 1 hour.

Drain and rinse one of the cans of beans; leave the bean liquid in the second can. Add all the beans plus the reserved bean liquid to the pot and heat until the beans are warmed through, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with more salt and pepper. Serve in bowls over potatoes or rice with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of chopped scallions.

Giving Thanks for Cranberry Sauce

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I’ve spoken here before about Thanksgiving, about how as a child, it was my least favorite holiday of the year.  (I should clarify that I am only talking about the years when I was in California…I don’t remember much about Thanksgiving in Alaska, but I’m sure it was lovely and fine.)  My entire family (on my mom’s side) is obsessed with weight.  My grandmother decided at a young age that she was NOT going to be fat like her parents and aunts, and pretty much has been on a diet ever since.  To the point where now, at age 92 and weighing in at about 88 lbs, she will still make comments like, “Well, since I ate that brownie, I’ll have to starve myself tomorrow.”  It’s digusting.  She raised her kids to be obsessed with weight as well, putting my mom on a diet when she was about 10.  It backfired, and the combination of her obsession and family genetics put all of her children into the overweight/obese category, though my aunt Colleen was much thinner than my mom or my uncle.

As might be expected, the conversation at family gatherings was often about dieting, about what one should and should not eat, what works and what doesn’t, on and on and on.  And all the while, of course, there’s turkey and stuffing and potatoes and candied yams and gravy and pie and fruit salad and cranberry sauce and rolls.  Please eat, enjoy…with an undertone of, you wouldn’t be so big if you didn’t enjoy quite so much.  Ugh.  Add to that the chain smoking by both of my grandparents, and throw in a big helping of my grandpa’s acid tongue and sarchasm, and you get the idea.  No family gatherings were particularly wonderful or happy, but Thanksgiving seemed to me to be about food food food, and with this family, that was not a good thing.  Plus most of the food wasn’t good.  Turkey was dried out, mashed potatoes from a box, brown gravy from a packet, cranberry sauce from a can, yams from a can.  Almost nothing was fresh.

I did always like the fruit salad and the cranberry sauce, canned though it was.  Actually, I liked the mashed potatoes and gravy from a box/packet, if truth be told.  It wasn’t until I was older and tried these things made from scratch that I realized that my grandparents’ cooking was like living in Plato’s cave, eating shadow versions of dishes, and there was a real world out there with delicious versionis of these same foods.

I remember the first time I tried cranberry sauce that wasn’t canned.  It was 1993, and Ted and I were newly married.  My mom had moved to Alaska that summer, though Richard and his wife had not moved up there yet, and were still in California.  Richard and Kathy were married the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and my mom had flown down for the wedding.  Generally we have Thanksgiving at Ted’s parents house, but we decided that year to have Thanksgiving at our apartment in San Francisco.  Kathy asked what she could bring, and I don’t remember if she brought pie or something else, but I do remember that she brought cranberry sauce.  It was a revelation. SO good.  Not overly sweet.  Fresh tasting.  I begged her for her recipe, and she looked at me, stunned.  “It’s on the back of the bag”, she said.  “1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, cranberries….cook over medium heat until the cranberries pop.  Chill.  That’s it.”   I think she felt that day about the same as she did when she told Richard they were going to make mashed potatoes, and he grabbed the box of powdered potatoes, while she grabbed fresh potatoes from the produce aisle.

Ever since that year, I’ve made this version of cranberry sauce, with a few exceptions.  One year I tried a savory version, which I did not care for.  One year I added a pinch of salt, which was fine but not really any different.  This year, for Canadian Thanksgiving in October, I tried a new recipe.  I don’t know what motivated me to do so, but I did.  It’s very similar to the one on the cranberry bag, but has less liquid.  You start out over low heat with the sugar, cranberries, and only 2 tblsp of water instead of a cup.  When the sugar dissolves, you have plenty of liquid, so then you turn up the heat to medium and cook until the cranberries pop.  I found the recipe on Food Network, and they added a strip of orange peel, which I don’t fancy.  Some commenters used 2 tblsp OJ instead of water.  Result?  A lovely cranberry sauce!  Not adding as much water gives you more concentrated cranberry flavor.  Also, I used a bit less than a cup of sugar.  Maybe more than 3/4 of a cup, I’m not exactly sure.  Delicious. So this is the cranberry sauce recipe that I’m making for today’s Thanksgiving feast.

I’ll be thinking of Kathy, and thanking her for introducing me to fresh cranberry sauce.  I’ll be thinking of my mom and all of the years when she would come to California for a month, and Thanksgiving was during that time and she would spend a week with us.  I wish we were able to do that this year.  I’ll be thinking of my grandma and how much I love her, even if a visit with her means coming home smelling like cigarettes.  I’ll be thinking of my grandpa and how much I loved him, even if he was a mean old man.  I’ll be enjoying a lovely day of delicious, freshly made food, laughter, music, wine, and fun with our new dog, at Ted’s parents house.  I do have a lot to be thankful for.  (I considered changing that to the more gramattically correct, “I do have much for which to be thankful” but I don’t like it, so I didn’t.)

I’m also making my Grandma’s fruit salad, sweet potato pudding, and as an appetizer, shrimp cocktail.

If you’ve not tried fresh cranberry sauce, or if you have only tried the version with 1 whole cup of water, give this one a try.  It’s delicious.

Cranberry Sauce
Ingredients:

12 0z cranberries (fresh or frozen)
3/4 cup sugar
2 tblsp water or orange juice
1 strip orange or lemon zest, optional

Directions:

Put all ingredients into a saucepan.  Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and the cranberries are soft, about 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and cook until the cranberries burst, about 12 minutes.

Thai Chicken Salad

Thai Chicken Salad

Gorgeous photo found here, along with the recipe.

On a lighter note, thankfully, after the sadness of last week, I think it’s time for a recipe.

One item I like to order when we go out to eat is either a Chinese Chicken Salad or a Thai Chicken Salad. I like the crispy crunchiness of it, the sweet and tangy and (sometimes) hot of it. Delicious.  The other day it was 102 degrees, so the idea of a salad for dinner appealed to me.

I’ve tried to make an Asian chicken salad once before, but it sucked. It was too sweet, kind of gloppy, all around wrong. I’m not a good enough cook to figure out a recipe on my own, so I rely on folks who are so inclined. So I looked online, and found this recipe.

The best thing about online recipes (and sometimes an annoying thing about them), is that they have reviews. The reviews can warn you if a recipe is truly crap, or if there are revisions that you might like. Too sweet, too gloppy, too whatever. This recipe received an average rating of 5/5 stars, and the 200 comments were all of the “this is SO GOOD” variety, that I decided to trust it.

I’m so glad I did. When I serve a salad for dinner, I feel like Ted and Maya are disappointed. They both like salad just fine, but generally prefer it as a side dish. Tonight was no different, at least at first. But once they had had a few bites, Maya said she really liked this dish, and it’s a keeper. Ted agreed. I don’t think he was quite as enthusiastic as she was, but he was OK with it. That’s a win when it comes to serving a salad for dinner.

I followed the recipe as is, except that I added roasted chicken breast and roasted peanuts, and I omitted the edamame she had. Chicken for protein, peanuts for crunch. The sauce is delicious, and the only ingredients I didn’t have on hand beforehand were rice wine vinegar and ginger.

I liked the blog where I got the recipe, Once Upon a Chef. I think I might try her Peruvian chicken next, in honor of our yummy neighborhood Peruvian restaurant.

Thai Crunch Salad with Peanut Dressing
Slightly revised from a recipe by Jennifer Segal
Servings: 4
Total Time: 30 Minutes

Ingredients
For the Thai Peanut Dressing

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, from one lime
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
2-1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1-inch square piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (J’s note, I forgot the red pepper flakes, so I put them on the table for those that wanted heat, aka, Ted)
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves

For the Salad
2 bone-in chicken breasts, skin on (J’s note, this is not part of the original recipe. I added the chicken.)
4 cups chopped Napa cabbage or shredded coleslaw mix (J’s note, I’m not terribly fond of regular green cabbage, though I do like Napa Cabbage, so I used that)
1/2 head red cabbage, chopped
1 cup shredded carrots
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced into bite-sized pieces
1 small English cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded and thinly sliced
2 medium scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup loosely packed chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup roasted salted peanuts

Instructions
For the dressing, combine all of the ingredients except for the cilantro in a blender and process until completely smooth. Add the cilantro and blend for a few seconds until the cilantro is finely chopped. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

For the chicken, preheat oven to 375F. I use my toaster oven for this, so it won’t heat up the kitchen. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper, and roast for about 45 minutes, or until it’s done to your liking. Let cool, and shred the meat. Discard the skin (or eat the crispy skin while hot, if that’s your thing. That’s sometimes my thing.)

For the salad, combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and toss to combine. If serving right away, drizzle the peanut dressing over top and toss; otherwise, serve the dressing on the side so the salad doesn’t get soggy.

Hopping on the Band Wagon

ice cream

I’ve seen this ‘recipe’ around the internet, and there’s even a device you can buy if you want, rather than using a food processor.  I decided to give it a try, as I had some very ripe bananas, Ted is cutting back on his dairy, and we have some vegan friends who might enjoy this.  So here goes…One Ingredient Ice Cream, or, more truthfully, frozen banana puree.

  1. Slice a very ripe (but not TOO far gone) banana into 1 inch or less coins.
  2. Put sliced banana in a freezer bag or other airtight container, and freeze overnight, or at least four hours.
  3. Put frozen banana slices into food processor, and blend away.  At first it will look like frozen shards of banana, but if you stick with it, they will smooth out into a creamy batch of banana, the same consistency as soft serve ice cream.  If you want to add other ingredients, now is the time.  Peanut butter, cocoa powder, Nutella, whatever floats your boat.  Clearly, this will make it two ingredient ice cream, or however many things you add, but that’s between you and your brain to figure out.
  4. Pour into airtight containers and freeze to set.  You can skip this step and just eat it creamy and soft if you so choose.

Guess what?  It doesn’t taste like ice cream.  It tastes like bananas.  But it’s sweet and creamy and cold.  I made mine with chocolate syrup added in the mix, then more chocolate syrup and some nuts to serve.  It tasted like a banana split.  I don’t think anyone would say, “Ice cream?  No, I’d rather have a frozen banana.”  But if you have some really ripe bananas you want to do something with, or if you are making dessert for a vegan, this could work. Give it a try if you’re into such things.

Potato and Onion Gratin


photo and recipe found here

Trudy, the lovely 99-year-old lady on my Meals on Wheels route, sometimes enjoys perusing the weekly insert that comes in her paper, Relish, with me. We also get a daily paper, but ours is a San Francisco paper, while Trudy’s is local, so we don’t get the insert. A while ago, I came across this recipe, and liked the look of it so much, I made it for dinner that week. I made it with a roast chicken, and it was delicious. It was enough of a hit that Ted requested that I make it for Christmas dinner. Christmas is a bit of a pot luck in our family, and while the main dish was to be rack of lamb (YUM), I was in charge of side dishes. The gratin was a big hit, enjoyed by all. I opted for thyme rather than rosemary, though either would be delicious. You should likely give this one a try.

Potato and Onion Gratin
Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

1/3cup olive oil
2large onions, cut into halves and thinly sliced
1teaspoon chopped thyme or rosemary leaves
2pounds waxy potatoes (such as Yukon Golds), thinly sliced
1teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1cup reduced-sodium chicken broth

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a shallow 6-cup baking dish.
Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft and golden brown, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in thyme.
Arrange one-third of the potatoes in prepared pan. Top with one-third of the onions and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Repeat layers twice, ending with onions. Pour broth over top. Cover with foil and bake 1 hour. Remove foil and bake 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown.

Recipe reprinted with permission from The Monday Morning Cooking Club’s The Feast Goes On (Harper Collins, 2014).

KISS and Brussels Sprouts


Back when Ted was a kid, he was a fan of rock divas, KISS. How appropriate then, that this long lost Folgers commercial appears online, at around the same time that Ted decides to make me Brussels sprouts for my birthday dinner. Watch the video, it’s too funny. I guess it was filmed in 2000, but never aired. I like how into the song he is.

Ted and Maya are not fans of Brussels sprouts, and Ted hates dried fruit in general, but for some reason even he really liked this recipe. Maya ate 1/2 of one Brussels sprout, and declared it not bad, but not something that she would actually order on purpose. If you’re at all a fan of Brussels sprouts, give this a try. It’s delicious. For my birthday, it was served with a wonderful roast duck, mashed potatoes, and delicious tarts that Ted purchased at our local store.

RECIPE: BRUSSELS SPROUTS À LA STANLEY

Serves: 6
INGREDIENTS

Brussels sprouts
Prosciutto, cut into half-inch pieces
Dried cherries
Hot pepper flakes
Aged balsamic vinegar
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt to taste
Zest of one lemon

INSTRUCTIONS

First of all, don’t measure out the ingredients. I don’t stress about that kind of thing. Cut a nice amount of Brussels sprouts in half and set aside, whether or not you even like Brussels sprouts. These are off-the-hook delicious. Steam until a little soft.
Next, fry the prosciutto in olive oil until soft. Remove for later.

Put the steamed Brussels sprouts into the pan and brown, turning frequently.

Add dried cherries (I use Mariani) into the pan and cook with the Brussels sprouts. Add the cooked prosciutto and hot pepper flakes.

Stir in high-quality, aged balsamic vinegar. Add enough to coat all ingredients. Don’t be shy.

Add cheese and salt to taste.

Serve in a large bowl and top with lemon zest.

Eggplant Involtini


picture found here. Isn’t it gorgeous? Mine looked nothing like this, as you’ll see below.

Just in time for ‘Meatless Monday’, I bring you a delicious recipe for Eggplant Involtini, which I found in my July/August issue of Cook’s Illustrated. I swear, I don’t know why I subscribe to this magazine. I find one recipe maybe every 4 issues that I want to try, and then only half of those turn out. So I subscribe for a year, then blow it of for a couple of years, then I get sucked in again. Somehow I got sucked in again this year, and my results have not been great. Mostly the recipes I’ve tried haven’t been stellar. And really, I like my cookbooks to have beautiful glossy photos, which Cook’s Illustrated does not.

Anyway, enough bashing of the magazine. Yesterday, while I was deciding what to make for dinner, I thought I’ll pull out a couple of issues and see if anything looked good. This recipe for eggplant looked pretty good, and I remember when it first came in the mail, thinking that I’d like to try it in late summer, when eggplants are at their best. (Are eggplants at their best in late summer? I don’t even know. It just seems like it, like they’re similar to tomatoes in that way.) I’ve never heard of Eggplant Involtini before, but it looks a lot like Eggplant Parmesan, and this recipe looks to be a little lighter, as it is not fried nor breaded. Results? Delicious. It was indeed a little lighter than Eggplant Parmesan, though still hearty enough for a delicious dinner. I’m going to put in my vote here, again, for Pomi brand tomatoes. I used them in the sauce, and I find them far superior to the canned brands. Get them if you can find them. They’re in a red and white box, and the ingredients are: tomatoes. Nice, yeah? Because the tomatoes are not treated with calcium chloride or salt, they don’t keep their shape very well. The box has a picture of diced tomatoes, but they come out looking almost like a puree. That’s OK. Give this one a try, you won’t regret it.

Eggplant Involtini
Ingredients

  • 2 large eggplants (1 1/2 lbs each), peeled
  • 6 tblsp vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 (28 oz) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained with juice reserved, chopped course (no, use the box of Pomi)
  • 1 slice hearty white sandwich bread, torn into 1 inch pieces
  • 8 oz (1 cup) whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 1/2 ounces grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tblsp chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tblsp lemon juice

Pre-heat your oven to 375 F Degrees.

Peel the eggplants. Cut them lengthwise into 6 slices. Each slice should be about ½ inch thick. Trim the rounded ends so that they will lay flat.

Cover two baking sheets with parchment paper and spray them generously with cooking spray. Place 6 eggplant slices on each baking sheet.

Start with the first baking sheet. Brush each eggplant slice with two and a half tablespoons of olive oil (you use the 2.5 tbs olive oil to brush all of the slices) and season it with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Flip each slice and do the same thing for the other side. Repeat the same process for the second baking sheet.

Place both sheets in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until they are tender and lightly browned. To ensure even baking, switch and rotate sheets half way through the baking process.

In the mean time, make the filling. Place 1 cup of ricotta cheese, bread crumbs, ½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, ¼ cup chopped fresh basil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and ½ teaspoon salt. Stir until they are all combined. Set aside.

To make the tomato sauce, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large ovenproof skillet. Add the garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, oregano, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Stir them with a wooden spatula and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes and cook in medium low heat, until it thickens, about 15 minutes. Cover and set aside.

When eggplants are baked, let them cool for 5 minutes. Do not turn the oven off. Heat the broiler.

Using a spatula, flip each slice over. With the widest side of the eggplant slices facing you, evenly distribute the ricotta mixture onto each slice. Starting from the widest end, gently roll each piece and place it, seamed side down, in the pan with the tomato sauce.

Bring it to a simmer over medium heat. Allow it to cook for 5 minutes.Place it in the oven and broil for 5 minutes for the eggplants to be browned and the cheese to cook thoroughly.

I wanted mine more saucy than was shown in the pictures I found, so I made a bit more sauce, and then covered the eggplant bundles with sauce before broiling.
IMG_1742
See? Saucy. Not nearly as pretty as the more defined looking recipe from ‘Cook’s Illustrated’, but I don’t regret it. I love sauce. I do notice the difference between a professional photographer and me, with the vibrant colors and all.

This was a delicious recipe, and I look forward to having it again. I guess I’ll stop slamming the magazine for awhile.

Kefta Dog with Roasted Tomatoes

A few weeks ago, a shocking thing happened around here. I turned on the TV to the Food Network, and there was an actual cooking show being aired! I know you’re thinking, “No J, you’re confused. That was a cooking COMPETITION, or else it was a show where Guy F guy drives around and takes HUGE bites out of greasy food”. It wasn’t. It was an actual cooking show, where the host makes a recipe, and you decide for yourself whether you might like to try the recipe at home. I was in so much shock that I ended up watching an episode of ‘Sandwich King‘, a show I of which I had previously been unaware. I’m glad I watched, though, because amongst other items, he made a delicious looking ‘hot dog’ on the grill that I wanted to try. 1st, I like hot dogs. 2nd, this was made from lamb, and is really closer to a kabob than a hot dog. 3rd, it had slow roasted tomatoes, which I love. 4th, at the end of the episode, he and his family ate all of the various sandwiches he had prepared, and his wife said this was her favorite. So I added it to my menu, and a few days later, I made the dish. It was a hit, so I went ahead and made it again for the 4th of July.

The lamb is more the texture of a burger than a hotdog, so it’s very easy to eat. You could skip the bun if you were so inclined, but I would caution you NOT to skip the roasted tomatoes, because they’re killer. And the sauce is good as well. The other day, Ted took some of the leftover roasted tomatoes, some leftover sauce, some roasted chicken, and some kick ass cheese we had sitting around and made himself a delicious sandwich. So keep that in mind…the recipe makes more tomatoes and sauce than you’ll need, and that’s not a bad thing. Also, I saw no need for the skewers. Seemed like taking the dogs off of the skewers would just be an opportunity for them to fall apart. So I merely shaped into the right shape and length for my hot dog buns, and grilled as is. Worked perfectly.

Kefta Dog with Roasted Tomatoes
Ingredients

Oven Roasted Tomatoes:
4 Roma tomatoes, quartered
1 teaspoon olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Kefta Dog:
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
4 cloves garlic, grated
1 shallot, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound ground lamb
Olive oil

Infused Greek Yogurt:
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 packed tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
1 tablespoon tahini paste
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic powder
1/2 lemon, juiced and zested
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Special equipment: 6 wooden skewers

For the tomatoes: Preheat an oven 325 degrees F. Toss the tomatoes with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread them evenly in a roasting pan with a rack inside if possible (the rack helps allow the tomatoes to evaporate water). Let them roast for about 1 1/2 hours checking for hotspots in your oven (rotate the entire pan if needed).

For the kefta dog: Preheat a grill pan. Combine the coriander, cumin, paprika, allspice, cayenne, garlic, shallots and some salt and pepper, and mix. Mix in the lamb in small pieces so the seasoning distributes evenly.

Mold lamb into 5 1/2-inch-long hot dog shapes onto your skewers. Drizzle each with olive oil. Place on the grill pan, and cook on each side for about 4 minutes, for a total of 7 to 8 minutes.

For the yogurt: Add yogurt, parsley, tahini, garlic powder, lemon zest and juice into a mixing bowl and incorporate well. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve the kefta dogs with the infused yogurt and roasted tomatoes.