Archive | November, 2013

Turkey Day Trials 2013, Part 2

23 Nov

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Years ago, my mom had an especially funny Kindergarten class.  There was this one boy in particular who looked like he was 5 going on 55, and had the imaginary years of personality to match.  It was at this Thanksgiving time when I was home from college and would volunteer in her classroom, thus starting my love for teaching and education.  I remember sitting in one of the teeny, tiny chairs watching my mom line up her kids to go home for the day.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” as she started to speak, all those little eyeballs grew big and round and stared at her as if she was made of gold and about to pass out candy and puppies, “tomorrow is a special day.  Please turn to the person behind you and say, ‘Tomorrow is the Feast!’”

I watched as 17 little kids whipped their bodies around, almost smacking the next person in line with swinging backpack momentum.  “Tomorrow is the FEAST!”

They were so excited!  So excited in fact, that if everyone turned to the person behind him or her, they were talking to the back of a head, and they didn’t even notice!  The best part being our little boy, happy and jumpy as ever, being last in line, and turning to tell the air behind him that tomorrow is the feast.  He couldn’t have been happier to tell nobody!

I laughed out loud that day, and we still laugh about it every Thanksgiving.

Yesterday was the Kindergarten Thanksgiving Feast at my school.  It is a huge event, and something our school has been doing for years.  While quite a production, it provides food for all of the kids, and their families, in our 5 Kindergarten classes.  While already being stressed about fitting in everything I need to do before the Thanksgiving break, I also offered to roast a turkey.  Sigh!  So rather than freak out (which, Rob will tell you, I kind of did anyway), I decided to chalk it up to Turkey Day Trials.

Usually, for my Turkey Day Trials, I make a roasted turkey breast, mostly to test any glaze, rub, or compound butter I would like to try that year.  Anyone remember the infamous microwave turkey breast of last year?  Anywho, coming home after working all day and getting this turkey in the oven was honestly, something that I needed to not stress about.  I had floors to clean, no time to baste.  I needed laundry done, no time to brine.  This needed to be a no-mess, no-fuss, no-nonsense bird.

So that’s exactly what happened.  No funny mishaps here.  No microwave, no trips to the emergency room.  I stuffed a Meyer lemon in the cavity with rosemary and citrus mint.  I sprinkled the juice from another Meyer lemon on the outside, and roasted the lemon quarters in the pan.  I rubbed the bird with a stick of softened butter, gave it a very healthy dose of s&p, a small shower of ground cardamom, poured some water in the pan, spanked its hiney, and away it went.  Starting the oven at 425, I immediately turned it down to 350.  To remove the basting issue, the bird was covered for the first hour with foil.  After an hour, I removed the foil, turned up the oven again to 425 for about 15 minutes, and then lowered it to 325 for the last hour and a half of cooking.  Wham bam, thank you ma’am, at 155 degrees in the thigh, the bird was out of the oven, covered again with foil, and rested for a whole HOUR (this is because I honestly forgot about it.  My dad had just picked up my mom from the airport, and by this time we were all eating one of our favorite dinners– butternut squash risotto with seared scallops and sage brown butter – all of our chit-chatting left the bird resting comfortably, and forgotten about).

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When I finally cut into the bird and prepared it in small bites for small people, it was simply the best turkey I’ve ever made.  It was completely juicy all the way through, with brown skin and a lovely herby, lemony flavor.  We all tasted a bit and Thanksgiving came roaring through the door.

While cleaning up, I asked Rob why he thought this turkey ended up better than the rest.

“Because you didn’t think about it.”  Mr. Pilot Hands might be on to something.

My mom came to Kindergarten with me yesterday to help with the feast.  While I lined up the kids in our room, ready to go fill our bellies and give thanks, with all the parents watching I said,

“Ladies and Gentlemen, turn to the person behind you and say, ‘Today is The Feast!’”

The same excited, kiddo reaction ensued, and my mom just happened to be last in line.  With a huge smile and an audible giggle, she turned to nobody behind her, and excitedly said, “Today is The Feast!”

Enjoy!

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Turkey Day Trials 2013

16 Nov

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We’re starting again!  The best time of the year – Thanksgiving!  Such a wonderful holiday filled with the smells of warming cinnamon spices, the joyous laughter of friends and family, and The Dog Show.  Really, it’s such a great day.  And like always, I’m trying to prepare early.

Rob came home yesterday from his deployment (yay!), so he’ll be around for the Thankful festivities, and all the Turkey Day Trials that will ensue over the next 2 weeks.  What a great husband – one of the first things he asked me after getting off the plane (literally, we are standing at baggage claim) was, “How are the Turkey Day Trials coming?”  I think he enjoys this just as much as I do.

For the big day, Rob will be contributing his now-famous-among-my-family mashed potatoes.  No trials there.  It is a dish with which not to be messed.  As with pigs in a blanket, gin and tonics, and football, some Thanksgiving things are just expected, and Rob’s potatoes are one of them.  Although we may have to make sure an extra pair of oven mitts is readily available.  While cooking his welcome home dinner last night, I asked him to try a piece of tortellini, handing it to him with my fingers straight from the spoon out of the boiling pot.

“Put that down!”

“Oh come on!  You don’t have asbestos hands like me?” was thus my attempt at flirting involving boiling hot substances.  Sad, I know.  I put down the little round pasta.

“No,” Rob gently tries to pick up the pasta, drops it, picks it up again, and then blows on it with disproportionate vigor, “I don’t have asbestos hands.  I have soft, delicate Pilot hands.”

I’m so glad he’s home.

But I digress.  Even though the potatoes are perfection already, that doesn’t mean I can’t mess with other things.  Like butternut squash, for example.  Butternut squash is fun, beautiful, funky (as in the cool hipster way, not the smelly way), simple and sweet.  It is a favorite to salads, soups, and starchy roasted vegetable platters come this time of year.  As an appetizer, I always make an Apple Bourbon Butternut Squash soup on the Day de Turkey, but thought I would experiment a bit this year.  So with a big, sharp knife in hand, I dove in.

Whether in soups, salads or just on its own sprinkled with a bit of sea salt and cardamom, my favorite way to prepare butternut squash is to roast it: diced smallish, high heat, olive oil, s&p, and often with an herb or spice.  The caramelization of the squash’s natural sugars brings out a subtle sweetness similar to a rosé wine.  Not at all over-powering, but leaves a touch of I-want-some-more-of-that on your tongue.

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Almost every time I entertain, I have a dip of some sort, really, because people love to dip things.  And in some company, double-dipping is perfectly acceptable.  So my “go-to” is a lemony white bean dip that is much more subtle tasting than hummus, and as smooth as pate.  It is always elegant, easy, and gone by the end of the evening.  So as this Thanksgiving will be filled with wonderful entertaining, I thought of this dish, and the unexpected marrying of it and the butternut squash.  Simply roasted, then puréed with the buttery white (cannellini) beans, with a touch of garlic, spice and rosemary, LOTS of olive oil, and voila: a new Thanksgiving appetizer.  It’s perfectly fine just like this, especially still warm from the roasted squash, but I put some stilettoes on this dip and brought it to the next level.  Spooning a bit of the dip into an ovenproof dish, I sprinkled over the top a bit of red pepper flakes, freshly grated parmesan regiano, and a drizzle of olive oil.  After being under the broiler for about 3-4 minutes, the crusty, bubbly, golden crust is irresistible with some crusty French bread.

I want some right now!  Maybe I’ll slather some dip on a piece of thin, whole-grain toast, and fry and egg on top – the possibilities for this spread are endless!

Turkey Day Trials are off to a good start!  I’ll keep you posted with more to come!  Enjoy the start to the season!

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Roasted Butternut Squash and White Bean Dip
(makes about 20 oz)

  • 1 15 oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • the top half of a small butternut squash (the part without the seeds), peeled, then diced into ½- inch pieces, about 2 c uncooked
  • 1 good-sized clove of garlic
  • 1 small sprig of rosemary
  • about ½ c extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp regular olive oil (for cooking)
  • s&p

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Taking the diced butternut squash, toss with the tbsp of olive oil, the rosemary sprig, and a 3-finger pinch of salt and freshly cracked pepper.  After all the pieces are coated, spread the squash evenly on a baking sheet.  The rosemary will crisp up in the oven, and add a great flavor.  Place in oven for 10-15 minutes, turning the pieces once, until the top and bottom of the squash is a beautiful, dark golden color. 

Then, pour the beans, the garlic clove, and a few tbsp of the extra virgin olive oil into a food processor.  Pour in the squash, including the cooking oil, which has now been flavored by the squash and rosemary.  Take the leaves off the rosemary (they will come off very easily and most likely crumble in your fingers), and add to the food processor.  Add just a pinch of s&p, and pulse to get the mixture started.  Then, while the processor is running, pour in a steady stream of the rest of the extra virgin olive oil.  You’ll see the  spread become creamy and very smooth. 

Taste for seasoning (I always find at the end, after adding all the olive oil, I need to add a bit more s&p).  Enjoy with pita chips, crusty bread, or mixed vegetables. 

**To make the broiled spread: heat your broiler to high, spoon some of the dip into a ovenproof bowl, and sprinkle some red pepper flakes, good parmesan cheese, and olive oil on top.  Broil until bubbly and golden. 

Goes GREAT with an earthy Pinot Noir, or bubbly Brut.  Enjoy! 

Love and Food Through Email

6 Nov

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For those of you who are married out there, or love the thrill of dating, remember that feeling you got when you’d get an email, text message, or a missed call from that special person with whom you were in smit?  It’s a fun feeling – butterflies, excitement, and an urgency to return the message, but of course not too urgent for fear of looking too eager? (Man, dating was exhausting).  Well, I hate to say it, that feeling does kind of dwindle when you get married.  That is, unless, your husband deploys with the military.

Silver lining, might you assume?  Absolutely.  I completely could drone on and on about how much I miss my husband, and how I got into a slump and didn’t feel like cooking, thus didn’t have much to blog about, and how he wasn’t here to help me assemble the desk, and then help me take the desk back when the drill-holes didn’t line up correctly.  Even when my wonderful dad was visiting for a few weeks, and we had a great time traveling to Atlanta, and he lovingly cut my grass for me (because I won’t touch that machine lest I care to lose a toe), there was still a pinge of longing for my out-at-sea husband.  Yes, I could complain, and maybe even you would understand.  Having a husband in the middle of who-knows-where trying to find who-knows-what can leave a lot to the imagination.  But, it can also bring about a spark.

Every little “bing” of my phone indicating a new email has started to bring about that dating feeling again.  Silly, right?  We’ve even been flirting – imagine!  Over government email, no less.  Hey, I figure, if we can make some government looky-loo smile from our deployment banter, then by all means, read away!  So, as a tip to all you military wives out there, imagine you and your deployed husband are dating again – it will make the time, the emails, and all the longing just go by a bit more smoothly.

There is one thing that came up in our emails this week, reminding me of why we put so much importance on our little home traditions.  Rob and I always have Sunday Night Dinner, and I made a point last Sunday (during a particularly slump-feeling weekend), to make something that I knew Rob would love.  I did, and for the first time in a long time, the cooking felt good, natural, and like there wasn’t something missing.  This is probably because at the exact same time, Rob was trying to recreate Sunday Night Dinner on his boat with his crew.  I read about it Monday morning in his email, and it just made me smile.  For that moment last Sunday night, we were sharing the same thought, feeling, and energy, thus making Sunday Night Dinner feel so less empty with only one at the table (well, two if you count Sig sniffing his way around the dining room).

The meal was simple yet unbelievably good. Making a creamy tomato soup with absolutely NO cream was divine, and made me feel less guilty about indulging. The simply s&p-baked halibut was a cold seawater treat. Atop the delightful combo sprinkled thinly sliced, quick-pickled celery providing a crunch and tang, balancing the subtle creaminess perfectly. Honestly, even as a left-over lunch, the meal was still delicious.

So unbeknownst to us, Rob and I had our Sunday Night Dinner together while being so far away. It clearly would have been better in person, but if anything, it shows us our strength in tradition, love, and the things (and food) we love.

Make this for someone you love – even if it’s just you! Enjoy!

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Creamy Tomato Puree
(makes about 1 quart)

  • 2 ripe beefsteak tomatoes, squeeze-seeded, and diced
  • 3 1-inch thick slices of left-over country bread (or French bread), crusts removed
  • 1 c non-fat milk
  • 2 c water
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 large sprig of fresh rosemary
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • s&p

With the bread cubes in a mixing bowl, pour over the non-fat milk and add the rosemary sprig. Using your hands, massage, press, and work the bread pieces until saturated with the milk. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil and garlic over medium heat. Once fragrant, add the tomatoes and the red pepper flakes, then season with s&p and sauté occasionally until soft.

Squeeze the milk mostly out of the bread, add the bread to the tomatoes, and stir well to combine.  Discard the milk. Add the water, and bring to a boil.

When boiling, turn off the heat. Then using an immersion blender (or spooning into a stand-up blender), puree the mixture until smooth and creamy. Taste for seasoning. Keep over low heat until ready to serve.

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Roasted Halibut
(serves 4)

  • 2 lb halibut filet
  • 2 pinches of salt per side
  • 1 pinch of cracked black pepper per side
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. In a baking dish, prepare the halibut by sprinkling over the salt, pepper, and olive oil. Make sure both sides are coated, and then lay the sprig of fresh rosemary on the top of the filet. The herb will roast and become crispy – a great garnish for the end of the meal.

Roast for 10-12 minutes, or until the fish just starts to flake when probed with a fork.

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Cardamom Pickled Celery
(makes about ¼ pt)

  • 2 stalks celery, cleaned , and finely sliced into ½ moons
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ tsp ground cardamom
  • pinch of s&p

Mix everything together, stirring occasionally, until ready to serve.

To assemble:
In a shallow bowl, spoon out the thick, creamy tomato puree. Then gently place a piece of halibut on top.  Sprinkle over some pickled celery, and a few pieces of the crispy rosemary. Enjoy!

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