Monday, November 23, 2009

Time to get organized for Thanksgiving! When I'm having a party or food event I'm taking a lot of food to, I like to make a list of each dish, the ingredients that go into it, what I'm serving it on, etc. If I'm traveling, I also include any utensils or bowls, pans, etc., I need to take with me. I use the list for shopping and gathering ingredients, and I usually am adding, deleting, and making changes on it right up til the end. So Sunday I made up my list for Thursday's dinner.

Stuffed Mushrooms

Butternut squash soup – plate in kitchen
  9 T butter
  9 c butternut squash
  4.5 c pears
  3 T butter
  2.25 c sliced leeks, white parts only
  1.5 T minced garlic
  9.5 c chicken stock
  1.5 can coconut milk
  Five spice powder
  Fried walnuts
  Toasted spices

Turkey – wooden cutting board

Gravy - gravy boat

Broccoli cranberry salad
  1 c mayo
  ½ c sugar
  1 T vinegar
  2 bunches broccoli
  ½# bacon
  3-4 green onions
  1 c cashews
  7.5 oz dried cranberries

Mashed potatoes
  5# Yukon gold potatoes
  8 oz cream cheese
  1 c half n half
  1 stick butter
  1 t minced dry onions
  1 t salt
  ¼ t pepper
  1 T seasoned salt

Cranberry Relish

Dressing - pyrex dish

Green beans
  Green beans


Cheese & fruit plate

Pumpkin pies
  2 cans pumpkin
  2 cans evaporated milk
  Whipping cream
  1.5 c sugar
  1 t salt
  2 t cinnamon
  1 t ginger
  1.5 t cloves
  4 eggs

Pumpkin cake rolls – ivory oval platters

Then, since this week is so hectic with people arriving on Tuesday night, I made up a to-do list and tried to assign things so that it isn't all left til the last minute. This is also a work in progress and I constantly add to it as I go along and figure things out. I could not get through a week like this without my list. It would seem overwhelming to me to hold all these details in my mind and I'd end up leaving it all until the last second and getting stressed. But after listing them on paper, it really seems doable and easy and even fun, and I don't need to worry about holding it my head. And I check them off as I go by changing the color to blue and it's so much fun to visually see everything getting done.

Purchase and prep flowers
Clean house
Make pumpkin brioche dough
Figure out turkey timetable

Arrange flowers
Make pumpkin chocolate chip muffins
Brine turkey
Make fried walnuts for soup
Make toasted spice rub for soup
Purchase cheese
Purchase wine
Purchase remaining ingredients
Assign recipes
Take tickets at The Clyde
Kids arrive around 10 pm!!!

Haircut at 9am
Make pies
Dry turkey
Make mashed potatoes
Set table
Pizza and movie with the kids
11pm - Turkey goes into the RO for 30 mins, then into the SO

Remove pumpkin cake rolls from freezer to thaw
Make soup
Remember to take photos of all the food!

This year I've hit upon a brilliant idea to get help with all the food. I'm going to assign each dish to one or two people and let them make it for me! I'll have the ingredients all ready to go, give them the recipe and their timetable, and let them have at it. Is that not the best idea I've had in ages?

It gets even better - I'm ahead of schedule!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gordon Gets Saucy

Yesterday was another highly-satisfactory cooking class with Gordon Stewart of Gordon's on Blueberrry Hill in Freeland.  The topic of the day was sauces.  This class was a bit more disjointed than others of his I have attended.  He gave us recipes for five 'mother sauces' and then proceeded to make 4 courses using some of the sauces as his base.  He jumped around quite a bit and there were no recipes for the dishes he made as well as no quantities on ingredients.  I did my best to take notes and hopefully I didn't miss too many details.

We were introduced to Gordon's new intern Tim, who plans to intern with Gordon for two years and then have his own cooking show on tv.  Ah, the optimism of youth!

So the five 'mother' sauces we were given recipes for are bechamel, espagnole, hollandaise, mayonnaise, and veloute.  I won't bother to reprint all those recipes here; they are pretty basic.  I will tell you what Gordon does with some of them.  He's a very creative guy and his presentations are a delight.

 The first sauce he covered was mayonnaise, which he calls the 'devil's condiment.'  This is Julia Child's basic mayo recipe. Gordon uses apple cider vinegar in place of the wine vinegar/lemon juice.  He also recommends a mixture of canola oil and olive oil.  He said is you use 100% evoo, it'll be too bitter.  He uses 2-4 T of boiling water and he adds it at the ends of step 2, before adding the oil.  When you add the water, it reduces the chance of the sauce breaking on you as you add the oil and you don't have to be so ultra careful when adding in the oil.

Purists may cringe at this, but as Gordon mentioned, there were no food police at the class so he was allowed to break any rule he felt like!  I'm a born rule breaker.  One of my mottos since birth has been 'rules are made to be broken.'  I suppose this is one of the reasons I adore Gordon.

So that is basically what he told us about mayonnaise.  He then proceeded to make an aioli from it (mayo with garlic added) and turned that into a salad dressing for this delicious salad:

My convoluted notes on how to  make this salad:  grapefruit sections with the pith removed, arugula, watercress, lobster tails.  Add some tarragon and chopped fennel bulb to the aoili.  Mix everything together, set half a grapefruit shell on a small bed of undressed greens, put the salad in the grapefruit cup, and top with toasted sundried tomato tortilla strips. 

To cook the lobster tails, he recommends warm water lobster as it is less expensive, remove the shells (but save them for a fish stock and other uses), soak the tails in a mixture of milk and water (proportions aren't important) for a few hours, then cook it in the same mixture. When it comes to a boil, it's done.  Add ice, let it cool, and then it's ready to use.

I'll tell you right now:  I don't like mayo, and I don't like arugula and things like watercress.  This was delicious.  I cleaned my plate.  Okay,  I didn't eat the grapefruit shell.  But it was really good and it'd make a great first course for a spring dinner party, a special luncheon, or any holiday meal.

So that was yummy.  I was dying to know what came next.  Usually we have the recipes in front of us so I can anticipate what is coming up.  But yesterday we had to wait until he made each item to see where he was going.  Except for dessert. We knew it was going to be creme brulee.  We just didn't know what Gordon was going to do with it.  He is so clever!

Okay, next he made two things at once and it all got very confusing trying to keep the notes on the correct page.  In an attempt to be clear, I'll just do one at a time.

Let's start with the cauliflower gratin. Oh, no, another food I don't like!  Obviously Gordon forgot to consult with me!!  Actually, once many years ago, in another cooking class in Burlingame, California, I had cauliflower au gratin and it was really good.  I decided I did like cauliflower if it was smothered in cheese.  Gordon's was a bit different from that other long-ago dish I had.  (Which I did actually make once but it wasn't a big hit with the picky family and at that time I was still trying to please everyone.  Well, those days are long over.  Maybe we'll have it again tonight...)

Here is Gordon's bechamel sauce recipe because I think it may be different from others I have seen and tried:


5 T butter
4 T sifted all-purpose flour
4 cups milk heated
2 t salt
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
whole white onion (peeled and spiked with 5 whole cloves)

Make a blond roux:
1.  Pour the 4 cups of milk into a sauce pan, add a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg and the spiked onion.  Remove from heat when the milk has scalded (or overflows from the pan, as was the case in class yesterday.  I love it - Gordon has exactly the same cooking techniques as I do!)

2.  While the milk is heating up, melt 5 T butter in a saucier pan.

3.  Whisk in the 4 T of sifted flour and cook until the flour emits mild nutty aromas.

4.  Pour the scalded milk into the saucier pan containing the blond roux.  The sauce will thicken immediately.

5.  Continue cooking the sauce on a low heat until the desired consistency is reached and then add the salt and pepper to taste.

Now to make the cauliflower gratin - blanch the cauliflower, break or cut it up into pieces and add it to the bechamel.  Use the onion from the bechamel (remove the cloves) and chop it up into bite sized pieces; add it to the bechamel.  Season with salt and pepper.  Fill your gratin dish (or dishes plural if doing individual portions) and top with grated aged cheddar.  Into the oven at about 250 - 300 degrees for 30-45 minutes.  You want it to just be getting that nice browned look on top.  Then garnish with fried sage and fried pancetta.  You can fry up the pancetta slowly and then use the drippings to fry the sage.

This was yummy.  This was really yummy.  You can do it all ahead, except for the last baking bit.  So it'd be great for a dinner party.  I LOVE do-ahead dishes.  Especially ones that taste fabulous and make me look like a good cook!

One of the women at my table said her husband wouldn't eat cauliflower but if she told him it was au gratin potatoes he wouldn't  know the difference and would eat it all up.  So this is a good one for sneaking the veggies in on the family!

Okay, on to the next dish.  Next he made a soup, sort of a lobster bisque.  He started with the veloute, which is basically thickened stock.


2 cups of chicken, fish, or veal stock
4 T flour
4 T butter
salt and pepper

1.  Make a brown roux
2.  Add the desired stock
3.  Add the salt and pepper once the desired consistency is reached.

To make the bisque, he used the shell from the lobster tail (remember, I told you to save it) and sauteed it in hot oil.  He saved the oil to use on top of the soup and also to use in the aioli he made for the grapefruit/lobster salad up above.

He made a mirepoix, which is carrots, onions, and celery (roughly chopped as it will be strained out) sauteed in oil.

Here's where it got confusing as he was going back and forth so fast.  But he used some of the fennel tops, bay leaves, cold water, and tomato paste.  He added all that to the veloute, I think.  He said to always start out with cold water, or cold stock (you can use chicken stock for all or part of the water), as it gives the best flavors when making a stock.

He also said the more you cook a roux, the less thickening power it'll have.  So if you want it dark, add tomato paste instead of continuing to cook it.  So I think he used all the above to make a thick soup/stock and then strained it.  Then he added jerusalem artichokes which had been chopped and sauteed.  That was basically the soup except that I think somewhere along the line he must have put in some of the oil the lobster had been sauteed in because you could really taste the lobster and I don't think it was from only the drizzle on top.  On top of the soup he garnished with chopped chives, lobster oil, cream, and a bit of spinach which had been flash-cooked in a little bit of oil and salt and pepper.

So not a real clear recipe to follow but it sure was yummy!

Then on to dessert.  Here's his basic creme brulee recipe:

Creme Brulee

8 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
2 quarts heavy cream (or you can use half n half or milk*)
1 cup sugar
1 t vanilla extract

*Gordon says, "You get out of a recipe directly in proportion to the ingredients you use."  Gwen says, "Fat is what they put in food to make it taste good."

1.  Heat the cream until it scalds.  Then add the vanilla extract.  (During this process one could infuse the cream with additional flavors.)  I think personally I might just heat the cream with a vanilla bean in it and not use extract.

2.  Before the heavy cream scalds, whisk the eggs and egg yolks with sugar until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is pale yellow and thick.

3  Temper the egg mixture with the heavy cream.

4  Strain the mixture and pour into ramekins.

5  Put into a water bath, cover with foil, and cook at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour, just until the custard is setting.  Cool and then remove from water bath.

6  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.  Before serving, top with sugar and use the torch.

Now here's where Gordon got interesting.  He said you could flavor the custard with pretty much anything you wanted to.  He gave us 3 ideas:

Fresh cranberries cooked down with candied crystalized ginger and a teeny bit of sugar.  You can strain this out first if you want the custard smooth.  Top with the crystalized ginger.

For a pumpkin spice creme brulee, add about 1 cup of canned pumpkin, some nutmeg and cinnamon.  Top with toasted pumpkin seeds.

For an aztec chocolate creme brulee, add 1-1/2 cups chopped bittersweet chocolate to the hot mixture (it'll all melt in nicely) and some cayenne and cinnamon.  Top with crushed candy canes.

Now we're all wondering which one Gordon is going to serve us.  Being the nice guy he is, we got all three! 

Each person had 3 little spoons filled with these 3 variations.  He had gone to Chinatown and bought up some of those spoons they use to serve soup with in Chinese restaurants and he used those.  It was a fabulous presentation.  I can see this on a holiday buffet table.  I would be soooo impressed if I walked into a party with these.  I don't know how they would hold up to sitting out very long, but it was really a pretty spectacular ending to the class!

"There is no sauce in the world like hunger."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Snips and Snails

I was talking to my sister on the phone yesterday.  She told me that when she picked up her 4yo son Tristyn from preschool, she noticed little red splotches and bits of woody-looking things on his face and mouth and gums.  She said, "Tristyn, what happened to you?"

He replied, "My teacher told me not to run with my eyes closed anymore.  I ran into a tree."

Hilarious!  Don't you just love little boys?  I so miss this age.  Not that I don't love my all-growed-up boys, but there is something so dear about the little ones.  I wish she had asked him, "Why were you running with your eyes closed?" because I'm sure the answer would have been entertaining.

Monday, November 16, 2009


This weekend, while playing around on the computer and looking at various cooking sites, I came across a food blog with a baking challenge to bake all the recipes in a new cookbook featuring no-knead breads.  The book is called Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  They plan to start the challenge in January, but to keep things interesting are doing trial runs in November and December.

The November recipe is for Pumpkin Pie Brioche.  So I decided it sounds yummy and why not give it a go.  Plus you know what a big fan I am of Jim Lahey's original NY Times No-Knead Bread recipe.  I could use a few more good no-knead recipes in my repertoire.  I think our friends are getting tired of the same old delicious home-made bread every time they come over.  (Not!)  I also thought it would be a good time to break in my new measuring spoons my sister got me for my birthday last week.  They have chickens on them!

The PPB dough has to sit in the fridge overnight, so I made it up last night.  It was super easy to make.  I used my Kitchen Aid, being the lazy person I am.  I was glad I didn't double the recipe as I had originally considered.  The basic recipe pretty much filled the KA up.  I used canned pumpkin and melted butter.  I also doubled the spices, as so many others had recommended.  I think the original recipe sounds good, too, just much more subtle in flavor.  But because of the variations I planned to try, I wanted the full-blown pumpkin spice flavor to shine through.

The dough ends up with that shaggy look that you'd expect from a no-knead bread dough. 

After I got it in the fridge, I looked at some of the sites where others had made it and was really impressed by how creative everyone had gotten.  So many great ideas to steal!!!  While I really liked the idea of using cream cheese in some way (pumpkin and sweetened cream cheese is a super combo), I couldn't get the idea of pumpkin and chocolate out of my head.  Trust  me to turn a 'healthy bread' recipe into something fattening.  As I always say, "Fat is what they put into food to make it taste good," so I decided to go with some Mini Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins for my first recipe.  I topped them with the streusel topping from the Big Black Dog site .  I made a dozen, 9 with the streusel and 3 without.  I have to say that I prefer them with the streusel. No surprise there.  Here's the recipe for the muffins:

Mini Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Mix about 10 oz of the Pumpkin Pie Brioche dough and a handful of chocolate chips together.  I sort of kneaded the chips into the dough.

I sprayed a mini muffin pan with some of that cooking spray in a can (which I really hate to use, it creeps me out, but again with the laziness) and divided the dough up into 12 pieces, which I put into the muffin pan.  Then I topped with the streusel.  I still have lots of streusel left over, but I have plans for that later today!

I left the pan to rise for about an hour.  Basically I waited til they looked like they had risen enough, and that was about an hour.

Then into the center of the Baking Oven (350 degrees) for 15 minutes, turning the pan halfway through.  After 15 minutes, Mr. Toothpick said they were perfect.

Now all I had to do was wait as long as I could for them to cool off before popping one into my mouth.  I lasted maybe 5 minutes.  They are delish!  Especially the ones with the streusel.  They're tiny; easy to just pop into your mouth in quick succession.  I think I'll  make them when the college kids arrive next week. (Next Wednesday, our two sons will be arriving home from college and bringing with them Jeff's girlfriend Danielle as well as two other girls.  Other college kids home on the break will undoubtedly come by.  I can't wait to have a houseful of noisy hungry kids around.)

I figured I should do up one batch as a loaf.  This way I could try the french toast others have posted and makes my mouth water every time I see it, as well as make Jesse some cinnamon and sugar toast when he comes home from school today.  He's such a picky eater.  I don't think he'd ever try the bread on its own, but he does love cinnamon and sugar toast!

So I plunked down 2 pounds of the dough into a greased loaf pan and set it to rise for the recommended time of 90 minutes. Then the egg wash, sprinkled with some sugar, and then into the Baking Oven (350 degrees) for 45 minutes, turning halfway through.  Pulled it out at 2:30 and let it cool.  It was ready just in time for Jesse getting home from school.   

Of course he wouldn't eat it.  But I did and it was really good.  It was so good, I forgot to take a photo of the C&S toast before I ate it! 

The rest of that dough was still in the fridge, calling out to me.  The cream cheese was also calling out to me.  Not to mention the remainder of the streusel.  I tried to ignore them, but they kept on calling, then shouting.  There was such a din, I couldn't hear myself think.  I knew what had to be done.  In fact, I had known it as soon as I saw those photos on the other sites...

Pumpkin Pie Cinnamon Rolls.  With Frosting.  (Is there any other way?)

Using the remainder of the Pumpkin Pie Brioche dough, which ended up being 2.4 pounds, I rolled it out into a rectangle.  I spread it with softened butter. Then I sprinkled the leftover streusel topping evenly over the butter.

I rolled it up lengthwise, using a spatula to help me scrape the sticky parts up...

...cut it into about 1-1/2 inch pieces, and placed them cut side up in a greased baking pan, which was really too big for the amount of rolls I had, but I didn't want to dirty up another pan.  I figured they would rise and fill in more of the pan.  (Or I could just fill in those spaces with frosting.)

Covered with a towel and left for a 90-minute rise. They rose and filled in the pan nicely. 

Into the Baking Oven (350 degrees) for about 20 minutes.  While they were baking, I mixed up my cream cheese frosting (4 oz cream cheese, 3 T butter, 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar, 1 t lemon juice, and a capful of vanilla).  I spread the frosting over the still-warm cinnamon rolls.  I gained 3 pounds just looking at them.  Okay, so maybe it didn't end up to be exactly healthy bread in five minutes--it's good, though!

 Can you say yum?

Thoughts on this recipe:  I wish the ingredient quantities had been in weights.  I find it easier to weigh out flour than to measure in a cup.  This is really my only complaint.

I like that I could make a batch of this dough--and it made a lot!--put it in the fridge, and then leave it until I wanted to do something with it.  I love that the dough is so versatile and can be used for so many things, both savory and sweet.  I'm sure I haven't even begun to tap the possibilities.

Would I make this again?  I would definitely make the Mini Muffins.  They were super easy to make and quite a yummy treat to have on hand.  If you had a few of the muffin tins, you could make a bunch of these quickly.  I still plan to try making the sliced loaf into french toast tomorrow morning.  I think it would make a nice brunch dish.  It certainly made great C&S toast.  I'm thinking that it would also make a nice sandwich with Sonoma Chicken Salad on top of a toasted slice.  I probably would not go to the trouble of making them into cinnamon rolls again.  While very tasty, they're over-the-top filling, and I think I'd prefer to spend my time making, and eating, regular cinnamon rolls.

So I'm very happy to have a new no-knead recipe, and I'm looking forward to December's recipe!

“Men are like pumpkins. It seems like all the good ones are either taken or they've had everything scraped out of their heads with a spoon.”

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

An Afternoon with Nancy Pearl

Today was my yearly 'date' with Nancy Pearl. If you don't know who Nancy Pearl is, she's a retired Seattle librarian who travels the world giving book talks on the best books to read. Nancy's recommendations are generally not your run-of-the-mill bestsellers and books you'd find on other lists. Nancy's books are usually a little less known and a little more quirky. Nancy is the only librarian I know of who has her very own action figure.

Of course I have one -- autographed.

Nancy comes over to Whidbey Island every November and gives our book-loving community a talk on her latest favorites. But first I usually get to go out to lunch with Nancy, which is just a lot of fun. The Friends of the Langley Library sponsors her yearly visit, and being on the Friends board, I'm one of the lucky ones who gets to take Nancy out to lunch before her talk. Here we are this afternoon, after lunch and on our way to the book talk.

Here are this year's book recommendations by Nancy. I raced home and put a number of them on hold at our library. And one I even already have sitting on my tbr shelf! Without further ado, here are the titles, with the authors in parens. Oh, and I should mention, some of these books are YA (young adult) books and some are picture books for young children. Nancy is an equal-opportunity reviewer.

Big Rabbit's Bad Mood (Badescu)
The Anthologist (Baker)
Beat the Reaper (Bazell)
Manual of Detection (Berry)
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Bradley)
Little Bee (Cleave)
The Hunger Games (Collins) as well as its sequel, Catching Fire
Narrow Dog to Indian River (Darlington)
The Missing (Gautreaux)
The Photographer (Guibert)
Living Witness (Haddam)
After the Profit (Hazelton)
The Gone Away World (Harkaway)
Strength in What Remains (Kidder)
The Family Man (Lipman)
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks (Lockhart)
Border Songs (Lynch)
Buggle Trouble (Mahy)
The City and the City (Mieville)
Dancing to the Precipice: The Life of Lucie de la Tour du Pin, Eyewitnes to an Era (Moorehead)
The Silver Linings Playbook (Quick)
Revelation (Sansom)
Stitches (Small)
When Wanderers Cease to Roam (Smith)
When You Reach Me (Stead)
The Tourist (Steinihauer)
Olive Kitteridge (Strout)
Love and Summer (Trevor)
You'll Never Know: A Good and Decent Man (Tyler)

Normally I have read a least a couple of Nancy book picks. This year I have only read one of them, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I do have the sequel on hold at the library. Unfortunately, it was just released in hardback and I think I'm number 3548 on the wait list, so it could be a while for that one!

I loved The Hunger Games. The Hunger Games takes place in an unidentified future time period after the destruction of North America, in a nation known as Panem. Panem consists of a rich Capitol and twelve surrounding, poorer districts. As punishment for a previous rebellion against the Capitol, every year one boy and one girl from each district are forced to participate in "The Hunger Games," a televised event where the participants must fight to the death in an arena until only one remains. The story follows 16-year-old Katniss, a girl from District 12 who volunteers for the Games in place of her younger sister, Primrose. Also participating from District 12 is Peeta, a boy whom Katniss knows from school and who once gave Katniss bread and risked a beating when her family was starving.

The plot kind of reminds me of The Running Game, which I enjoyed as a movie, but this book is way better. It's in the 'can't put it down' category, and even though the plot is horrifying, the book is entertaining and fascinating. This is book one in a trilogy and I'm really looking forward to seeing where the author will go with this series.

I love sci fi and although my first love is any book involving time travel, I also enjoy the stories set in alternative and post-apocalyptic worlds, especially in the young adult category. Other similar books I've liked recently are The Host by Stephanie Meyers and the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld.