Sunday, December 27, 2009

Deb, even grocery store workers deserve a day off on Christmas

I know we are all conditioned to twenty four hour a day access to grocery stores, but even they are closed on Christmas. My friend, Deb, discovered this to her dismay when she attempted to buy supplies for her Christmas dinner on Christmas morning. Quel Surprise! Well, I, the Mendon Foodie, bailed her out. In my well-stocked fridge I possessed the green beans and sweet potatoes she desperately needed. So she trekked down here to score some vittles to go along with her turkey (which she HAD remembered to get earlier in the week). And here, I will admit, she also bailed me out. Yes, I, the MENDON FOODIE, thought I had enough potatoes for fifteen people. I was sadly mistaken. Just as I was about to start calling all of neighbors, humbling myself and admitting to less than perfect menu planning, Deb bailed me out with five pounds of potatoes. The miserly amount of potatoes I possessed before that would have caused a lot of pushing and shoving amongst my guests to score an amount adequate enough to support the crispy shallot and Riesling gravy topping. But all was well, thanks to Deb. It was a mutually beneficial trade.

While she was here and we were chatting, I asked her if she needed anything else. She said she was fine, she was making a pie for dessert and she was even going to make the crust herself. Now, I have been hammering it into her head that it is not that hard to make a crust. I even showed her she could do it with very little trouble. All you need is a cuisinart and a rolling pin. And some pie flour. Yes, pie flour. If you think the only kind of flour you need in your kitchen is all-purpose, you are sadly mistaken and should beg me for the privilege of being my cooking apprentice. Really. Because you really need at least five kinds of flour.

Pie flour has low gluten and will yield flaky, tender pastry.
Bread, or high gluten, flour will give you high rising bread. The extra gluten allows more space to develop which traps the air and makes bread rise better.
All-purpose, unbleached flour. Make sure you buy unbleached.
Wondra or pan-searing flour. For dusting protein before browning and for lump free sauces. You can stir it in without mixing it with liquid and it will not clump. Awesome stuff if you have misjudged your sauce and it is too thin.
Cake flour, similar to, but not interchangeable with, pie flour. 

I will let you get away with just having those five. There is also corn flour, rye flour, whole wheat flour, and probably many more I can't even think of at the moment. But stock your kitchen with those five. Now.

So, I magnamimously bestowed two cups of pie flour on Deb and sent her home to make pie and turkey. I proceeded to make Porcini mushroom and chestnut soup with sauteed root vegetables. It was awesome. As was the rest of my Christmas dinner.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas Gift for Laura

I have been cooking my brains out now for two straight days. Tonight we have the Feast of the Seven fishes, with only five fishes this year. We'll have Shrimp Bisque, scallops wrapped in bacon with maple mustard cream sauce, spicy calamari with lemon aioli, salad with shrimp, avocado, and oranges, and linguine with clam sauce. No time to post the recipes now, comment if you want a specific recipe and I'll post it after Christmas.

So my gift to Laura, she whom I have tormented and abused in this space for so long?

I will write about my grassland birds.

I live on five acres in semi-rural Mendon, New York. We mow a couple of the acres, but the rest is wild. We call it our meadow, but Laura calls it grassland. It is so wet it could conceivably be called a wetlands. We have animals of every sort: deer, of course, skunks, raccoon, fox, chipmunks, moles, voles, rabbits, squirrels, you name it, if it is indigenous to our region, we have it. But the thing of which we do have the most variety is birds. I can't even begin to tell you or name all the kinds I have seen in my backyard. Two of my favorites though are the hawks and falcons which lazily float above the weeds and then dive suddenly for their kill. Once Laura pointed two of them out who were doing some sort of mating ritual in the sky. It was lovely. My other favorite bird activity on my land is when hundreds of smallish birds gather on my lawn en masse. They are quite small, and unremarkable looking, but I love to see when they gather and then just as much, when they suddenly depart, all together, as if some unheard signal went racing through the flock. I have seen beautiful, if ordinary, birds in my yard: bluejays, cardinals, robins, canadian geese on their way south or north, some bird which runs across my driveway when I approach, apparently to distract me from finding its nest.

My all time-favorite though? A recent sighting of a ring-necked pheasant just on the edge of the field. He was glorious. I though he was a wild turkey until Laura set me straight.

Now, Merry Christmas, Laura, shall we have some recipes on Birds, Words, and Websites? Oh, that's right, she's about a good a cook as I am a nature writer.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cheese Beroges

So, I am wracking my brain, trying to decide what to cook for Christmas Eve and Christmas. I don't usually do the same thing year after year, like a lot of people do. I find it boring and uninteresting. I don't cook the same things over and over for non-holiday dinners, either. Most people have about fifteen recipes they fall back on repeatedly. Think about it: that means you're eating the same meals about twice a month. I do admit, I have recipes that I go back to again and again, after all, they are good, really good, but I try to mix it up most of the time. Also, my cooking tends to be seasonal. I use what is fresh and cheap and local, when it is available.

Last year, my daughter, the Gates Foodette, relieved me of having to plan and cook two fabulous dinners and a brunch within two days. She had Christmas Eve at her house. It was really good, and fun, and my stress was much less. She is now doing the newly-married-how-to-please-both-families dance, so she will be spending Christmas eve with her husband's family and Christmas Day with us. That means I am back to making big meals two days in a row. Am I worried? Am I tired? I will be...

Here is one of my strategies for lessening stress: make as much ahead as possible. Appetizers and hors d'oevres are probably my favorite part of any meal and I like to take them over the top. A simple, yet fabulous recipe for a make and freeze ahead appetizer is Cheese Beroges. These cheese-filled phyllo triangles can be put together and frozen between layers of waxed paper and then baked frozen, straight from the freezer. If  working with phyllo makes you crazy, just keep this in mind: it doesn't have to look perfect. If the dough rips a little here and there, just keep going. The multiple layers will cover those imperfections.

Cheese Beroges

1 C shredded Monterrey Jack Cheese
1 egg yolk
1 T minced parsley
1 stick of butter, melted
1/2 pkg phyllo, thawed

Mix first three ingredients and set aside. Place one sheet of phyllo on work surface and brush with melted butter. Cut phyllo into 2 in long strips, starting from the short end, so that you have about four narrow, long strips. Place one tsp of cheese mixture at one end of phyllo and fold into triangles. Brush with more butter. Layer them into a container as you go, or cover with plastic wrap so they don't dry out. Bake at 450 degrees for about ten minutes, until golden brown. Serve hot.

I'll try to update this post with pictures when I  make them, but no promises. It's a busy time of year and I have to cook. Don't you?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Random Thoughts on Cooking

Usually, I try to keep a theme to my  posts. Today, I have just had random thoughts about cooking going through my head.

  1.  Green bean casserole with mushroom soup and canned onion rings is wrong.
  2. Baking bacon in the oven makes wonderful bacon and it is easy and less messy than frying. Trying coating it with maple syrup and black pepper, too. Yum.
  3. Making up ALL of your own recipes doesn't always result in fabulous food.
  4. Check your cookie making supplies before starting to bake cookies. It sucks to find out at the end that you don't have powdered sugar to make a glaze for your fabulous chocolate surprise cookies.
  5. Cooking dinner should always be done with a glass of wine at hand. 
  6. People who have long lists of foods they don't like annoy me.
  7. There is "white trash food" out there that is good. I just haven't found any of it yet. Except maybe jello.
  8. If your only problem with Tastefully Simple food is that it is too expensive you really need to read my blog more.
  9. Should I make turkey for Christmas? We just had it for Thanksgiving. But it was REALLY  good.
  10. I think I'm going to make the feast of the seven fishes again for Christmas eve dinner, but leave out Mario Batalli's disgusting salt cod balls. Okay, don't say it, don't even think it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Alright, I know I am your cooking guru, and you anxiously await my every dictum from on high, but really, all the shameless begging for recipes is too much. It is Christmas, you know, and I have much cooking to do, let alone churning out blogs twice or three times a week. But, actually, when you beg for specific recipes, it does make my life a little easier...I don't have to pull blog posts out of my rear.

So here are a couple of meatball recipes for Stephanie. The first one is Nonna's, my Italian mother-in-law. They are a family favorite, but a little bland for my taste. The second is my kicked up one. (Lord, I hate that phrase, kicked up, but I couldn't think of a more descriptive adjective. I must be losing my edge).

Nonna's meatball

Have the butcher grind you a pound of sirloin. (This part seems a bit ridiculous to me and I never actually do it, but Nonna does, so I include it here.)
To the ground meat add:
1/2 C parmesan cheese
1/2 breadcrumbs
2 T chopped fresh basil
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 c minced onion

 Add and lightly mix in 4 eggs. Yes, 4 eggs. It seems like a ridculous amount, but that is how much she uses.
Wet hands and form into 3" flat balls. Saute in olive oil and add to sauce to finish cooking.

Okay, that's it. I guess my second meatball recipe isn't actually that much different, I just made a few changes. To the meat add 2 T chopped parsley, 1 tsp cayenne, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 cup ricotta cheese. Yes, ricotta. It makes for incredibly moist and tender meatballs.

So, give it a try. Remember, the two keys to good meatballs: don't overmix, they'll get tough, and don't overcook in the saute pan before you put them in the sauce, they'll get dried out. Buon Appetito!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Grandma Foodie's Hello Dolly recipe

Apparently, Grandma Foodie lost her copy of her own cookie recipe. A really good one. We call it "Hello Dollies", but I've seen it called "Magic cookie bars", "5 layer cookie bars". I like the Hello Dolly name, because I loved the movie when I was a kid and I think that name is more fun than the others. Here it is, Mom. Everyone else, make it cause it's really good.

Hello Dollies

Melt 1/2 cup butter and mix with 1 C graham cracker crumbs. Press into the bottom of an 8 x 8 square pan. Sprinkle with 1 C chocolate chips, 1 C coconut, 1 C butterscotch chips, and 1 C chopped walnuts. Spoon one can of sweentend condensed milk over it and bake in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes. Sool, cut into squares, and then hide them from your children and eat them all yourself.

Christmas Cookies

This year, I'll not only be baking Christmas cookies for my family and friends,  I'll be sending a big box to some COLD soldiers in Afghanistan. No, they are not Marines, but I love them anyway. As I have said, they are out in on the edge of the earth, and they don't have adequate cold gear. I already sent some caps and gloves and some inferior packaged cookies, but now I must get on to sending them some homemade love. Because, after all, when we cook for our family and friends, when we put our time and our best effort into it, isn't that what we are doing? If we didn't care we would serve Hamburger Helper and chips ahoy. Does it take all that much more effort to make a pasta in fifteen minutes than to make Hamburger Helper? (Well, really, I wouldnn't know, because I have never made it. the Littlefoodie, 15 year old daughter, had it served to her at a friend's house for dinner once. She said it was vile.) And although I do buy packaged cookies from time to time, chocolate chips can be whipped out in 45 minutes if you have a stand mixer and large cookie sheets. Which I do, don't you? Shouldn't everyone have these?

Last year, right before my son left for Iraq, a friend of mine and her daughters made him the most enormous pan of Crusciki (these are a Polish fried cookie drenched in powdered sugar. Their joke is "How long will a Crusciki keep? No one knows, they are always gone by the end of the day") Anyway, the point is, they wanted to show him their love and appreciation, even though they barely knew him, and they did it by investing their time and energy. Could they have gone out and purchased Crusciki or some other gift? Yes. But IT WOULDN'T HAVE MEANT AS MUCH. And believe me, he felt the love. And ate ALL the cookies. Himself. Now, I have asked her for the recipe before, and she did say she would let me publish it, but so far, no dice. You can find a recipe for it on Martha If Deb coughs it up, I will edit this post and publish it.

So, I will start baking soon and will send some of my family's favorites over to the soldiers. Here is one which I will be sending.

Jam Thumbprints

2/3 C soft butter

1/2 C sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 3/4 c flour

Cream butter and sugar, add yolks and almond extract. Add flour. Shape into balls and press a thumbprint in each cookie. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Cool and fill with jam (homemade currant jelly is great, homemade raspberry will also do). Dust with confectioner's sugar.

Indeed my computer did  crash in March of this year. (But I probably have it backed up. While my mind is not inferior (see comments), I may be a little forgetful at times!

*Note, Gates Foodette caught a mistake, the above recipe has been edited since first published. Sheesh.

Chrusciki (Polish Bow Ties)

12 egg yolks
about 5 level tablespoons of sugar
teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
5 VERY heaping tablespoons of sour cream
5 cups of flour (more or less)
A whole can of vegetable shortening for deep frying
Powdered sugar -- a box (you'll need slightly less than a box)

Combine ingredients:

In a LARGE bowl, combine egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Stir until the mixture is a uniform shade of dark yellow. Add the sour cream, and again stir thoroughly until the lumps of sour cream are broken up and the mixture is a uniform light yellow. Then, gradually add the flour until you get a stiff dough.


At this point, you have two options: Divide it into four balls and knead each one until your arms feel like they're going to fall off, or divide into two balls and put one into your KitchenAid mixer fitted with a dough hook. My grandmother of course had only Option 1, but I opt for my mixer. It really takes a quite a while to knead, a good 10 minutes in the mixer, which means each ball gets about 15-20 minutes by hand. (My grandmother would recruit the kids to help. I used to do it while watching TV) If you see the dough sticking to the bowl, add a little more flour, but don't add too much or the dough won't be elastic enough. What you want is a very smooth, soft, uniform medium yellow -- it gets a little darker as you go on. I have found that you can only do half the recipe at a time in the mixer.

Roll out the dough:

After it is well-kneaded, divide the dough into manageable pieces -- usually six or eight. Take one of the balls and turn onto a floured surface. Roll out with a rolling pin until very thin--my grandmother used to do roll until she could vaguely see the pattern of her vinyl tablecloth underneath.

Shape the dough:

With a butter knife, cut the dough into long strips about 1-1/2 to 2 inches wide. Cut each strip into lengths of about four inches so you have a lot of rectangles. In the middle of each rectangle cut a small (1 inch) slit going lengthwise.

Pick up one of the rectangles. Take one end of the rectangle and gently bend it toward the center, threading it through the slit in the center and pulling it out back into a rectangle. The rectangle will now have twisty sides and look kind of like a bow tie. Set the bow tie gently on a plate or platter and move on to the next one. It will take a little while to shape all of the rectangles, and you'll notice that the dough from the first ones dry out a little. This is fine. You should end up with well over a hundred chrusciki, I actually never counted. It depends on how big you make each rectangle.

Deep fry:

When you're about 2/3 way through shaping the chrusciki, you can put the vegetable shortening in a large pot with high sides and turn the heat on medium-high so that the shortening melts and heats up while you're finishing shaping the chrusciki.

When you're ready to start frying, take a platter and cover it with paper toweling or a paper bag (which will absorb the grease). It needs to be close, but not too close, to the pot on the stove...close enough so that you don't drip oil between the pot and the plate, but not so close that there is a danger of it catching on fire.

Test out the temperature of the shortening by carefully laying one chrusciki in the pot. It should sink to the bottom and immediately be covered with bubbles and come up to the surface. If it takes more than a few seconds, wait a little while until the shortening is hot enough. When it's right, you'll see that it gets golden really fast, so take care to flip it as soon as you see any browning, usually about 20 seconds or so. As soon as the other side is even a hint of golden brown, it's time to take out. Use a plastic slotted spoon--I use one of those spaghetti utensils and it works great. 

But you don't need to fry them one by one! No, you take a handful of raw chrusciki and gently lay it on the surface of the shortening. And then start stirring, flipping gently, until they all seem to be a uniform gold, then remove them from the oil and lay them on the paper-covered platter.

When they cool after a minute, you can transfer them to a large bowl and sprinkle powdered sugar through a sieve onto the chrusciki, turn over and sprinkle again. You'll see that the chrusciki are very delicate and flaky, so you need to be gentle when turning. It's best to work with a partner, monitoring the stove and the other putting the cooked chrusciki in the bowl and adding powdered sugar.

There is an old family joke that goes like this: Question: "What is the shelf life of chrusciki?"  Answer: "No one knows, because it never lasts long enough to put back on the shelf."

And how do you pronounce chrusciki?  Kroose - cheeky. If you're adventurous, you can roll the R.

June's notes on the recipe (which I have never made, but I just wouldn't be me unless I had a cooking judgement to make: get one of those "spiders" from the asian market. They are about five bucks and they are the best thing ever for removing things from the hot oil. Don't tell Deb, I'm getting her one for Christmas.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On to Christmas

Well, Thanksgiving is finally over and we had a great one. I made the entire menu out of Food and Wine magazine. Alsatian Brined turkey with Fig and Almond Stuffing. It was incredible.

My sister in law is a great cook, too and she and I enjoyed cooking a few other things together as well. One of which, bibimbap, I had never eaten. It was simple enough for a quick weeknight menu and really good and satisfying. You can find a video and recipe for it here, although I don't think I will ever make it with ground beef. I conveniently had two rib eye steaks in the freezer which were already marinated in Korean bbq sauce, so we pulled those out and used those instead. Now, after you look at the recipe, ask yourself, "Do I have to make it as elaborately as she did for a simple weeknight dinner?" And what do you think the answer is? Well, no, you can make just a few of the vegetables if you're tired, or lazy, or not as awesome as me and my sister in law. (And to my other sister in law, we love you for reasons other than your cooking. Mostly because we have rarely eaten your cooking and take your word for it that you aren't a cook. Although everything I have ever had that you made was good. Except that once. 'nuff said.) So, what are the key components of bibimbap for those of you who aren't as good as I am at getting to the heart of the recipe? Bean sprouts, lettuce (the recipe calls for spinach, but finely chopped raw lettuce is better), carrots,shitake mushrooms, korean chili paste, sesame oil, and egg. And the fun part is, you can chop everything, lay it out on a platter and let everyone top their own rice and mix, then give them an egg for the top. Everyone gets it just the way they like it, spicy, saucy, mild, lots of veggies, little veggies. Who knows, you might even get your kids to eat something other than a chicken nugget. (That is a completely different post).

So give it a try. I'll let you skip the fernbrake. Just find an asian grocery and get yourself some Korean chili paste and sesame oil and you're good to go.

But since we just had that, tonight I am making a stuffed chicken breasts with fennel and pomagranite sauce and roasted carrots, parsnips, and sweet potatoes. As a matter of fact, it is roasting now in the oven even as I write.

For the vegetables:
Peel and cut carrots, parnips, sweet potatoes, and the leftover fennel from the chicken stuffing, coat it all with olive oil and salt and pepper. Throw it in the oven along with the chicken. It might take a little longer than the chicken, but it should be close.

I posted the recipe for the chicken earlier in the year here, but tonight I used fennel instead of leeks, pomagranite seeds instead of any of the other mentioned fruits, and leftover baguette instead of either foccacia or challah. You need to be flexible, mix it up sometimes, as long as you have a good sense for what will work and what will not. I know several of both kinds of cooks.

Speaking of good cooks, I need to send a shout out to my oldest, (I mean the one I've known the longest, not oldest as in elderly) dearest, friend, Diane. Diane is a great cook. She and I have spent many happy times together cooking when I lived in California,a nd although I don't see her as much as I would like, she is always close to my heart.

My God, can you stand that much sincerity from me? I have to go have a drink before I start singing Kumbye-ya.