Monday, November 20, 2006

What's Cooking in "The Kitchen" for Thanksgiving

Hey, we’re cooking! In a surprise move, the big family dinner will be on Friday due to a football game, so The Kitchen is open on Thursday and we are having friends to dinner who have no other family in town and are stuck with us! Lucky them. Here’s what’s on the menu with links to recipes, some are my own:

Roast Turkey

Cranberry-Balsamic Reduction Sauce (recipe not yet created, I wing it a lot in the kitchen)

Sweet Potato Gratin with Aged Gouda, Sage and Thyme

Mashed New Potatoes with Parmesean (3 lbs. potatoes, ½ cup cream, ½ cup parm)

Fresh Green Beans sautéed with Shallots and Roasted Tomatoes
(you don't really need this one written down, do you? Let me know if you do)

Carrot Souffle

Apple-Cider-Sauce

French Bread Stuffing with Sausage, Apples, Cranberries and Sage
(adapted from Gourmet, use local sausage already made, add cranberries)

Biscuits with Local Honey

Vanilla Sweet Potato Pie with Butter Pecan Crust

Local ingredients to be used include: sweet potatoes, thyme, sage, rosemary, cream, milk, eggs, sausage, pecans, honey, and butter.

Have a happy and safe holiday!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The 100-Mile Pie, Well, Almost

Just when I thought the Eat Local Challenge was over, I got an email from our local paper’s food editor. I had offered any assistance from our eatlocalchallenge.com site, if needed, and I also wanted to compliment her on the eating local series of articles that were recently published. They were great articles, just what you would expect from a food section that had won a James Beard award. She inquired what local foods would be part of my Thanksgiving. I told her I planned on creating a sweet potato pie recipe.

Wondering why not pumpkin? Well, if you have ever tried to peel and cook down one of those, it is not easy. I cooked one Mexican-style. After six hours, the pulp was still very fibrous. With 10 other dishes to cook, sweet potatoes are easy and fast. Besides, pie would just about put me into complete victory in Battle Orange.

Next thing I know, the editor wanted me in the Thanksgiving 100-mile diet section with the pie — the pie that had not yet been created. And they needed said pie in a few days for a photo. Nothing like a little heat to get the oven going.

The first worry was the crust. My pastry is edible, often tasty, but rarely a thing of beauty worth gracing James Beard award-winning pages. Try as I might, I can never make those nice little fluted edges work. What to do? I cheated. I bought one of those fluted-edge pie pans, ceramic and expensive. I highly recommend these for others who are crust-deficient. Now, how in the world am I going to get pies made in the middle of a work week and full-time parenting in the evenings?

Fortunately, I have an understanding boss. Unfortunately, I have a demanding job. I found myself trying to create and prepare a new recipe while on a conference call defining “content type items” with web site developers. This is not advisable. Multi-tasking is much easier when at least one of the tasks can be performed on autopilot. Otherwise it can go like this:

Uh, yeah, in the, uh, main section template, you would have the title item, subtitle … OUCH! (actually, it was an expletive, not an ouch, and a very unprofessional one at that).

“Huh?”

“No, it’s okay, I just shoved the food processor blade into my hand … it’ll be fine once I stop bleeding, don’t think it needs a stitch … so, the subtitle item and then of course, on this template you would have … Oh [expletive] … can I put you on hold a moment?

“Uh, you still bleeding?”

“No, but there are eggs and cream running out of the food processor and down the cabinets. Give me a moment here.”

Crashing sounds. Food processor running. A few more expletives.

“Okay, back now, where were we?”

It was not pretty. When I hung up, I had to recount the eggshells, sure enough, I had missed one egg. I took one more look at my hand-scratched out recipe. Let’s see … brown sugar? Did I put that in? Oh, man … how do you miss a whole cup of sugar?

Somehow the pies made it into the oven, and one of them even looked good enough to photograph. I was VERY worried about how they would taste. Fortunately, they tasted great and the recipe actually tested well when the food editor tried it. I’ll be making this recipe again for the holiday. I just hope it will turn out half as well when I have a whole brain devoted to it! Well, as much of a brain as I have left, anyway.

I can't say my photo turned out well in the article, but Jill Silva's Thanksgiving feast is absolutely beautiful and inspiring. For anyone looking to go local for the holiday, this is a great source of recipes and ideas:

Happy, Local Thanksgiving!

Recipe follows, local ingredients sourced were pecans, butter, cream, sweet potatoes, and eggs.

Vanilla-Sweet Potato Pie with Pecan-Brown Sugar Crust

For Crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup pecans
3 tbs. Brown sugar
1 stick butter
1/3 cup cake flour (not self-rising)
1/2 tsp. Salt
4-5 tbs. Ice water

For Filling:
1 and 3/4 lbs. Sweet potatoes (2 large, red-skinned with dark orange flesh)
1 cup whipping cream
3 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. Ceylon cinnamon (Ceylon has a softer, fruitier flavor without harsh bite)
1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out with back of knife
1/4 tsp. Salt

Plus:
1 egg white beaten for crust

For the crust, put the pecans in food processor and pulse to chop fine. Add the flours, salt and sugar to the food processor next and pulse to combine. Add cold butter one tablespoon at a time and pulse a few times until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ice water one tablespoon at a time and pulse just until dough starts to come together. You may not need all the ice water. Less water is best. Try not to overmix. Gather dough into a ball and flatten into a flat disk. Cover in plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour and up to a day.

Roll the dough out between sheets of plastic wrap to about a 14-inch round. Peel off top layer of wrap and then invert dough into pie dish, remove wrap. Trim the edges to 3/4 inch overhang and crimp. Cover crust with plastic wrap. Place dish with crust in the refrigerator to chill while you make filling.

Place rack in bottom third of the oven. Preheat oven to 400°F.

Peel sweet potatoes and cut into 1-inch cubes. Steam potatoes for about 20-30 minutes until fork tender. Allow to cool a bit and mash with potato masher until smooth. (You can also use a food processor and pulse a few times). Measure one and one-half cups of puree for the pie, placing this into the food processor. Add brown sugar and pulse to combine. Add three eggs pulsing to combine, drizzle in cream while blade is running to mix in. Add salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and the seeds from the half of vanilla bean, reserving the pod for other use. Pulse to combine well.

Remove crust from fridge, remove wrap and brush with beaten egg white. Add filling. Cover crust edges with foil to prevent over-browning for the first 30 minutes of baking. Bake until the center is set and the edges puff up, about 40-45 minutes. Remove the foil from the crust halfway through baking so the crust will brown.

A few notes:
The dairy, eggs, sweet potatoes and pecans can all be sourced locally.

Don’t panic. The crust will be browner than a normal piecrust because of the brown sugar and pecans.

You can find the Expat Chef in her kitchen. Or, just for this holiday, in the newspaper along with the eatlocalchallenge information.

More dessert ideas from other Crazy Hip Blog Mamas can be found here.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Taute Cuisine: Holiday Treats

I was standing in the kitchen calmly watching as my toddler threw herself, lion costume and all, face down onto the floor and began screaming over, well, I can’t even remember what now. Although this is not out of the ordinary behavior for most toddlers, it is for mine.

“What’s wrong with her?!” my husband asked.

“Uh, let’s see, apple juice, oatmeal cookie, rice crispy treat, fruit salad …” I replied. “Are you done yet, Honey?”

Finally, she was. I gave her some edamame and dinner to get some complex carbs and protein in to help level off the sugar rush. And that was considered a healthy party menu because it had fruit and cheese. The fruit was just in heavy syrup and the juice had sugar along with two adult-sized dessert treats. It could have been worse, but I prevented that. I signed up for the treat bags. As tempted as I was to just hand out bags of frozen organic mixed veggies, I refrained from being the complete Wicked Witch of Halloween Treats. Yet the following recipe contains absolutely NO sugar at all.

Holiday Treat Bags (can be adapted for any holiday):
10 child-safe, food-safe holiday containers (look in the dollar section at Target)
80-100 non-toxic markers and crayons (buy in bulk, saves costs)
5 coloring pages (see below)

Coloring pages: use clip art CD to create your own holiday color pages. No creativity required.

Special equipment:
Clip Art CD and Computer with printer
Copier if you have access to one

Assemble each treat bag with 10 markers or crayons. Crayons only for the younger toddlers. Yes, they may eat them. The crayons, however, are healthier when ingested than candy. It also makes for an interesting surprise later for parents, especially the neon colors. Add the five coloring pages. Add any note to parents about the treat bag contents if required. Enjoy. Serves 10, don’t expect leftovers.

I know, it doesn’t contain any food. That’s the point. It’s time to rethink “treats.” I took the whole thing a step farther and bought bags of pretzels and fruit snacks for our trick-or-treaters at home. This was vetoed by my husband, partially in fear that our house would be egged, but mostly because he wanted the chocolate. I think he understood my point a bit later in the evening when the doorbell rang one last time.

Standing on the porch was a man and his son in a superhero outfit. “Trick or treat!” exclaimed the boy, holding his full bag wide open under the candy bowl. My husband, being polite, says, “Nice costume. You’re out kinda late.”

“I know,” said the father, “we like it because we find a lot of people are ready to unload their inventory.”

At this point, the son pulls back his mask, gives my husband a knowing smile and opens his bag a bit wider.

My husband dropped in a couple small candy bars from the still-full bowl, said, “Happy Halloween.” And closed the door. He was pretty disgusted by the sheer greed and attempt at manipulation. I was pretty disgusted at a father who would encourage his child to acquire as much junk food as possible. Happy Halloween.

Next year, it’s pretzels for sure.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Is it over?


I woke up Saturday feeling a bit lost. The feeling continued even as I took my little one to the park to play. Across the lot, the children’s farmstead and petting zoo was empty and locked up tight for the winter.

She looked longingly across the way. “I want farm,” said the sad little voice.

“So do I, honey, so do I,” I said.

You see, last weekend was the last of the farmer’s market days for the season, and the last of the children’s farmstead days as well. Both of these things had been a huge part of our weekends for months now. Seems like nothing went right the whole rest of the weekend. Life just wasn’t normal. How could all this be over?

You can read the rest of my "end of challenge" post at the eatlocalchallenge.com site. The experience has been amazing. It changed the way I cook and think about food. Though the challenge is over, I know I will continue to eat local and source local. You will see this theme continue here in The Kitchen.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Taute Cuisine 6: Battle Orange Continues

“Hello, Poison Control, how can I help you?”
“Please don’t laugh.”
“Okay.”
“I was letting my toddler try the herbs I am growing. She ate a sage leaf, and some rosemary, and that was okay. But then she ate a big scoop of dirt. And it was that potting soil with plant food in it that you have to wear gloves to handle?”
“Uh, how long ago did you pot the herbs?”
“About two months.”
“Oh, that fertilizer will have been gone by now, it’s just Styrofoam beads left. Those will come right through.”
“Oh, great, thanks.”
“You know, the average kid eats about five pounds of dirt by the age of five.”
“Wow, really? I guess she’ll get at least that much just by eating off my kitchen floor.”

True story. The things that kids eat, and what they won’t, are truly mystifying. Often, I am finding, it has less to do with taste than it does a battle of wills. That, and a general trend toward putting anything non-food into their mouths that clearly goes against all survival instincts.

As I wrote earlier, we’re currently engaged in the Battle of Orange Food. A battle, I find, I am winning, as long as it seems like I am not looking or my little one forgets about the battle and lets slip a few bites of Butternut Squash soup or Carrot Souffle. She even requested “Pie” with none in sight after sampling my Sweet Potato Pie.

Victory is mine inevitably, and I am well-stocked with ammunition; two sugar pumpkins, three acorn squash, three butternut squash, and no less than 20 lbs. of sweet potatoes. All fresh and seasonal, and locally-grown. I also have the inside knowledge that she loves herbs, almost more than dirt.

In fact, the way she zeroes in on anything potted on the back porch makes me glad for once that I kill every houseplant I come near. God knows what she’d be eating when I break down and have to go to the bathroom for a moment. Maybe I should just leave orange food on the floor around the house …

The latest culinary weapon is my Holiday Dish, Sweet Potato Gratin. I don’t ever see sugarplums when I think holidays, I have visions of butterfat. So, this is not light, at all. It is not an everyday dish. It also contains Five-year-aged Farmhouse Gouda at $20.00 per pound which my child loves regardless of the fact that it is orangish in color. No doubt because it is $20.00 a pound.

I tried to be exact with the measurements, but we were having a trying day, thus I ended up cooking with a 30-pound child strapped in a backpack, shouting, “I WANT CHEESE!” every few seconds while I was grating as fast as I could.

Happy Holidays!

Sweet Potato, Gouda and Herb Gratin

4 lb sweet potatoes

1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup whole milk

3 tbs. unsalted butter, softened

6 oz finely grated five-year aged gouda

2 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1 tbs. chopped fresh sage

4 sprigs thyme, leaves only, stems removed

Put oven rack in lower third of the oven and preheat 350°F.

Peel potatoes and cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices. This is easiest using a mandoline (as long as you use the handguard. Ouch, hurts to type right now). You should have enough potatoes for about five layers. Stir together cream and milk.

Spray 9 x 13 baking dish with cooking spray and dot with half of butter. Pour in 1/3 cup milk and cream mixture.

Place one layer of potatoes in baking dish. Pour 1/3 cup cream mixture and sprinkle one fourth of cheese between layers. On the fourth layer, sprinkle the herbs, before topping with the final layer. Otherwise the herbs will burn if placed on top. You can garnish the top later with a few additional herbs if desired. Easy on the sage.

Pour remaining cream mixture over potatoes and dot with rest of butter. You can optionally sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs, too. But the top layer gets dark golden and crisp, so this is not required.

Bake, uncovered, until potatoes are very tender and top is browned, about 2 hours. Let stand at room temperature 10 minutes before serving. This should serve 10 people with some degree of self-control.