Saturday, November 29, 2008

Reliving Thanksgiving Dinner

I was lucky enough to cook a full Thanksgiving meal this year (which also means, unfortunately, that I didn't get to spend the day with siblings or parents or my sister's pumpkin cheesecake creation, but we're focusing on the positive here). All the usual suspects were on the table: turkey, dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, rolls, green beans, cranberry sauce (my first attempt!), apple pie... what am I forgetting?

Here's the scene in my kitchen, circa 2 PM Thanksgiving day:

Which somehow transformed into this, circa 4 PM:

The unusual plates are part of my Christmas present from The Professor; he's been going to a co-workers ceramics studio and making me dishes! There are more to come, but I couldn't resist using them for dinner. The Beloved Stepson was a little hesitant - I believe his exact quote was "Are you sure they're safe to eat off of?".

You can also identify The Professor's plate by the spreading of cranberry sauce - it's his favorite dish, and he started serving before everything was ready. :)

Dinner was a smashing success, and I think I have finally conquered my fear of homemade gravy. It seems that butter really DOES cure all ills, because that's how I've started the last few attempts and they've all gone well. This time, I kept it pretty simple:

Melt 1/2 stick butter in a large skillet.
Add 1/2 cup flour and whisk to form a roux.
Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until it turns a medium brown.
Add your pan drippings, or as much stock as you like - this time, there was about 1 1/2 cups drippings from the turkey - and whisk constantly until it's simmering.
Add 1/2-3/4 cup skim milk and whisk until it's a uniform color and simmering merrily (but not boiling).
Voila! Gravy - after much whisking - is born!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Dutch Apple Pie

My grandmother set a pretty high bar for apple pies in our family. And I can hear you out there thinking "so did my mother" or "so did my aunt's godmother's second cousin", and I know that you think you have experienced the best apple pie ever. But luckily for you, I've had my grandmother's apple pie, which gives me the credentials to tell you that ... well, you're wrong.

She tried to teach me how to make her crust a couple of times...but I was around 16 years old and was probably wasting time dreaming of my new boyfriend instead of soaking up her buttery wisdom. And really, with fruit pies...the crust is 99% of the battle.

One thing I'm sure of? She didn't ever use vodka in her pie crusts.

Six months or so ago, my mom sent me an article from her local paper talking about why you should make your pie crust with vodka. (Apparently, it is not-so-secret family secret that I look for reasons to pull out alcohol?). Last week, The Beloved StepSon asked for apple pie for Thanksgiving...and I just couldn't pass up the chance.

I did my best to follow the recipe - cutting it in half, since I only needed one crust - but she lost me at "place flour in food processor", since I don't own one. Have you noticed that all pie crust recipes tell you to use that magical machine? I was excited when Deb mentioned that she prefers to make hers by hand, because...that's pretty much my only option. Does anyone else have a pastry cutter?

Where was I? Vodka. Right.

Well, we haven't actually eaten the pie yet, but I made the leftover crust pieces into little cinnamon sugar treats (another lesson from my Grandma). And they puffed up when I baked them. I'd like to say they were yummy - but The Professor found them while they were cooling. And the rest is history.

As for making a good apple pie - I seem to remember reading once somewhere that you need 2 kinds of apples - one that will fall apart and hold together the other kind, which will be more firm. Since I had 3 Gala apples and 6 Granny Smiths in my fridge, I decided that I liked the way that person thinks.

But really - the key is butter, sugar and cinnamon. The crust is half butter (I used butter in place of the shortening in the pie crust recipe), with a little cinnamon. The filling is half sugar with some cinnamon, with eight cups of apple slices thrown in to give you a reason to eat all the butter and sugar. The topping? Half cup of butter, half cup of brown sugar, 2 Tbsp cinnamon.

The result?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

That Cookbook Thing II

So here I am. Where have I been? Not in the kitchen enough, obviously – or at least, not enough with my camera. But I’m back – over a week late – for the next round of That Cookbook Thing II, where we present you with: Tournedos Saut├ęs Chasseur, or – when spoken without a French accent - Filet Steaks with Mushroom and Madeira Sauce.

This recipe rocked pretty hard for The Professor (although I’m going to have to work hard to find anything else in the book as scrumptious as that chicken dish we did last time). All in all, it’s a good thing that we can’t afford to eat like this every day, for two reasons:

1) I can’t afford that much filet (or tournedos, or whatever similar cut I can find), and
2) Julia = copious amounts of butter.

How in the world have the French avoided massive rates of heart disease? Oh…I bet Julia didn’t spend every waking minute in front of a laptop.

This was startlingly easy – I guess after roasting and setting a chicken on fire, I was expecting something that would require me to be in the kitchen for hours. But this was more than manageable on even a week night.

I’m not going to go into the entire process – Mike’s done a great job of that. And my fellow bloggers have made some great suggestions that I was able to take shameless advantage of:
  • Mike and Shaun both commented that the sauce was too tomato-y, so I cut it in half.
  • Ruth – I noticed after the fact – made the most perfect looking little potatoes to go with it.
  • Like Sara, I used sherry instead of Madeira because that’s what I had on hand.
  • I haven't done an analysis, but I know that at least one other blogger used filet instead of tournedos - that being what I could find. I asked the butcher at Publix if they made bacon wrapped filets and he promptly did, which kept me from buying a pound of bacon and then "making" myself eat the rest so it wouldn't go bad. God, I love bacon.
I also had a lonely red bell pepper that needed something done with it before it committed suicide, so I roasted it in the oven while I cooked and then sliced it up and served it over the top. I don’t care if this makes every French person in the world scream in agony – I love roasted red peppers, and I’ll put them on just about anything.

So now it must be time for pictures. Well, I don’t have any of the finished product – my batteries were all dead and I was too hungry to wait. I got a couple of action shots, though:

The bread, soaking up butter:

The mushrooms, having already soaked up more butter:

The filets - rocking away in yet more butter:

We had nice mixed baby greens salad to go along with it.
And now, if you will excuse me, I have to go run 102094 miles to burn off all that butter.