Tag Archives: cardamom

Turkey Day Trials 2012

26 Nov

Some of you may remember the epic meltdown I experienced in the grocery store last year, catalyzed by my lack of prepping and preparedness for the most joyous, calorie-filled day of the year.  It was a mess.  I was a wreck.  Yet, the day turned out as beautifully as ever.  Nonetheless, in wanting to avoid the same feelings that made me retreat into a 5-yr old blubbering pile of mush, I made time to do Turkey Day Trials again this year.

As I had been looking through the many holiday cooking magazines and catalogs (like I tend to do during this time of year… ok, always), I’ve noticed a shift in style and food.  The glossy seductive pages show a comfortable shift from elegant sophistication to rustically casual.  This also happens to be the way I’ve been cooking and entertaining for years.  So as the gourds get funkier shaped, and the stuffing becomes more chunky, in preparing for Thanksgiving, I was basking in the abundant farm-fresh feast of a holiday that was upon us.

For my Turkey Day Trials this year, I made a vegetable pie, smashed Yukon Golds with cabbage and bacon, and a cardamom spiced turkey breast. The veg pie was a wonderful mixture of root veggies and crusty, custardy bread.  The potatoes, laced with rosemary and maple, and dotted with pine nuts, were addictive.  But as most toasting-turkey stories go, halfway through the cooking process, I fretted the worst.  “It’s going to be too dry,” “It’s been cooking too long,” and “Crap, I think it’s over-done,” were constant stress-inducing mantras interlaced with choice four-letter words.

When my friend and I took the dinner to Rob and her boyfriend on duty, I prepared them for the worst – a Christmas Vacation soot of a turkey.  I have the Carving duties to Rob.  Looking at my foul catastrophe would sink my heart.



“Uh, you might want to look at this.”

“I know, I know, it’s bad,” My annoyance was evident.

“No, it’s –“ Rob trailed off.

My eyes popped as I looked down and as pink as a baboon’s butt, my turkey was raw.  Are you kidding me?!  All my over-cooked worry for a raw turkey?  Well, at least it was fixable.  The fatty, turkey skin had a silver lining.

With the hearty veggie pie and sweet and savory potatoes starting to loose their glamour, we did the unthinkable: we nuked the turkey.  Personally, I only use the microwave for late-night, stuff-the-face quick cheesy nachos, and would never dare think to put a beautiful, protein-rich bird in a radioactive hotbox.  But desperate times, a military ward room, and hungry boy stomachs called for desperate measures.

Five magical minutes later, the bird was perfectly cooked.  My cardamom and rosemary rub had infused and flavored the meat with a warming holiday taste, perfect with the simple and very rustic sides.  Considering all the main ingredients were locally produced, our casual pre-Turkey Day dinner was guiltless.

Needless to say, come last Thursday, I did not microwave our 16.8 pound turkey.  But the cardamom rosemary rub definitely made its Thanksgiving Day debut, and I felt completely prepared for a humble, local, rustically casual Thanksgiving Day celebration.  There were no grocery store meltdowns, and all the dishes came out perfectly.  Other standard traditions remained – The Macy’s Day Parade, The Dog Show, lots of libations, second and third helpings, and leftover turkey sandwiches.  Not to mention, lots of thanks for all of it.  Even for the microwave.

Happy Holidays!

(sorry for the lack of pictures – having technical difficulties with camera/computer connections)  :/

Cardamom Rosemary Rub
(can make as much as you wish) 

  • equal parts sugar and salt 
  • 1/4 of the salt/sugar ratio of equal parts ground cardamom and dried rosemary 
  • cracked black pepper, to taste 

Using a mortar and pestle, grind together the sugar, salt, dried rosemary, and cardamom until well combined and rosemary has been broken down considerably.  Add as much cracked pepper to taste (I like quite a bit; I feel it brings out the spice in the cardamom).  

This will be a very fragrant rub, that also goes well with lemon zest.  Rub on poultry, sprinkle on fatty fish (like salmon), or use as a flavoring for bread pudding.  


Bouquets of Freshly Sharpened Pencils, and Tomatoes

10 Sep

Yes, it’s that time again.  New clothes, three-ring binders, pencils, red pens, and those annoying snap-in three-hole punches that leave perfectly little round paper confetti all over the industrial carpeted floor.  The kids are back tin school, and my feet hurt.

It has been three years since I’ve been in a self-contained classroom, and while having worked as a single-subject teacher, a specialist, and then an instructional coach have all been incredible, and memorable, learning experiences, I’m so glad to be back with the kids.  Each day is different, and frankly, kids are cuter than adults (usually).

But getting back on the horse of the day-to-day-is-completely-different expectation has limited me on some of the things I have loved doing.  Such as waking up at 7:30 and watching the Today Show.  Taking long walks, catching up on food blogs, and reading cooking magazines.  And more than anything, spending most of the day in my perfectly L-shaped kitchen, making tomato jam, blueberry sauce, and tomato sandwiches.

In the August edition of Bon Appetit magazine, Adam Rapoport did a little blurb on Hellman’s Mayonnaise – it’s tang, it’s smoothness, simply it’s perfection.  Especially paired with a still-warm-from-the-sun tomato.  Finally, to read from someone who agrees with me about eating that mayo from the jar (well, I guess I learned from the best: Mom and Uncle Tom).  That little written oration, almost so easy to miss through the early pages of the mag, speaks passion and more than anything, a real summer taste.  Tomatoes, mayo, period.

Until now.  I have been playing with tomatoes for weeks now, and refuse to let one succumb to the overripe gods of the compost pile.  During the bitter, rainy winter/spring months, there’s sans a tomato in sight in our kitchen, so now is the time for indulgence.  I’ve even brought them to school and eaten them like an apple, brushing off my colleagues’ I’m-trying-not-to-look-at-you-but-it-seems-a-little-weird stares.  But the sauce I made, not originally intended for tomatoes, has made the lycopene-laced fruit speak loudly and with force: Peach and Fig Butter.  It’s sweet, tangy, subtle, and giving tomatoes a run for their money.

A friend’s mom was visiting from NorCal (where almost every fruit, veg, and leafy green has the ability to flourish wildly), and brought some Adriatic Figs to share.  These figs were so ripe they were about to pop – their bright green skin thin and stretched, like a, well, tomato ready to pop.  Adriatic figs are milder and less holiday tasting than the common black Mission Fig, and pair well with many summer flavors.  Two of my favorites being tomatoes and peaches (which I mix often), I imagined the perfect combination of a thick, smooth fruit butter to spread on tomatoes speckled with a creamy Gorgonzola.  Paired with a crisp Oregon Pinot Gris, can’t you just taste it now?

It was fabulous.  I took a shortcut with the butter by immersion blending the fruit after it had been simmering for a bit (rather than starting with a puree), shortening the thickening process drastically.  Despite the name, fruit butters don’t actually contain butter, but get their name from the thick, smooth quality the long simmering process renders.  Thick this was, and tasty.  The figs cut the sweetness from the peaches, and the subtle “warming” spices rounded out the fullness of the flavors.  Slathered on a tomato, our taste buds sung.

I teach 6th graders this year.  They are a lot different from the 4th, or even 8th graders I’ve grown accustom to teaching.  They, unlike my 4th and 8th graders, don’t care so much about my cooking stories.  They think talking about Fig and Peach Butter on a tomato is weird.  Maybe it is.  Not much is cool, unless you have a knack for really dry, overly intended sarcasm, which I, unfortunately, remember exuding all too well.  Call it the hormones, or maybe just the “transition year,” but I’m hoping they will come around to understanding the idea of having a passion for something as much as they understand an author’s voice in writing, or variables in algebra.  Having a passion is cool.  It made Adam Rapoport write about mayo.  It made me pair unlikely ingredients.  Hopefully, they will realize the coolness, too.

Fig & Peach Butter (makes 1 pint)

  •  5 large Adriactic figs, very ripe, diced
  • 2 large yellow peaches, peeled and diced
  • ¼ + 1/8 c organic sugar
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp ground cardamom
  • ¾ c water

Heat all ingredients in a pot over med-high heat until bubbly and liquidy. Add the ¾ c water, and blend well using an immersion blender or spoon into a stand blender.  Cook over low heat until very thick (when running a spoon through the butter, it should leave a trail).  Note: the butter will sputter when cooking; use a deep pot unless you want your stovetop to get covered in random, sticky, Jackson Pollock looking splotches. 

Let cool (it will thicken even more), and slather over tomatoes, toast, dollop on oatmeal, or whatever your heart desires.  Enjoy! 

Turkey Day Trials – Day 2

20 Nov

The countdown is in full swing – 5 days until the big day!  The biggest foodie day of the year!  The day of golden, crispy, poultry-driven naps!!  And – my favorite thing to eat at this time of year – pumpkin pie!

For the last couple of weeks I have been thinking about what traditional dishes, new dishes, and most of all, immensely flavorful dishes I can make for Thanksgiving.  I have already tried the turkey, tonight I perfected a dressing (stuffing without being stuffed – but I’ll refer to it as stuffing from here on out), and I already have plans for a brandied pear mouse trifle with gingerbread and cranberries.  The last thing I thought I would need to really perfect is the pumpkin pie – it is so easy!  Just follow the directions on the side of the can: pumpkin, spices, eggs, and evaporated milk.  Use the shortcut of frozen pre-made pie crust, and the star dessert is done without a fuss.  So I thought.

What happened to my pumpkin pie parallels what happened today while I was driving north on the 101.  We have had on and off rain and thunderstorms, but one of the coolest things about the southern Oregon coast is how quickly the weather changes.  It will be sunny one minute, and a huge gust of arctic wind will bring in a thunderhead and your bones will be soaked by sleet in a matter of minutes.

Well, as I was driving and passing Coos Bay (the actually bay) and looking up, to the right of me was sunlight and blue sky.  To the left were dark, ominous clouds.  And the road in which I was driving on was being drizzled by rain from, what seemed like, an invisible cloud.  Since physics and natural wonders work in an odd relationship to create beautiful things (kinda like Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones), a giant rainbow formed.  I, like most people, have seen my share of rainbows, and the reaction is always the same: “Oh!  Look! A rainbow!  Ahhh, cool!  So, about that Obamacare…”  But this rainbow literally made my jaw drop.  First of all, it was a perfect half-circle, so bright it almost looked fake, and I could see the “end” of the rainbow (there was unfortunately no gold.  Nor any little green men running around.  Only cold bay water with some Chinook salmon).  Despite the fact that I was driving, I watched this rainbow, and it was continually changing.  The light would refract in different ways, making it lighter, dimmer, and even seem to move a bit.  I had a bit of time (relatively) to watch this rainbow dance around in it’s nature, but as quickly as it appeared, it was gone.  Being that I was driving through town, I looked at the road and looked up again only to see a rainbow fading.  Then, once again it came back.  I blinked, and it was gone.  I looked up from driving and it was back again.  Once I even caught it flickering like a French Quarter gas lamp.

Eventually, those thunderous clouds covered up the sun, blocking the light, dropping more rain, and making the fleeting moment of colorful beauty go back to just being a humble bay.

At that point, I got thoughtful and started thinking about the science behind how that rainbow appeared, flickered, and reappeared only to disappear for good.  Then, with Christmas music aptly playing in the background, I started to think about the sentimentality behind watching a rainbow disappear.  Wasn’t that sad?  It was so beautiful, and now it’s gone.  But, to be honest, it didn’t make me sad.  It just made me thank nature, fate, and science for being at the right place at the right time.  This is the season for thanks, right?

So, after my traveling today (another trip to Eugene), I came home to make pumpkin pie, stuffing, and Cardamom Shortbread Cookies.  Rob, being on duty, was awaiting a yummy dinner, so I made the stuffing extra hearty with chicken sausage to complete the meal in one dish.  The stuffing was a hit.  The combination of sourdough bread and cornbread added texture, sourness and sweetness, and the sauteing of leeks and celery perfumed the whole house.  I added some apple and white wine chicken sausage, some fresh herbs, and it was completely second serving-worthy.  The pumpkin pie, however, was a different story.

I followed the recipe exactly!  Being a true purist when it comes to pumpkin pie, I did not do anything fancy, nor put my own twist on the classic – I simply read the can!  And like the rainbow, it started out beautifully.  Within the first 15 minutes, the kitchen started to smell of cinnamon and ground cloves, and after a few peeks in the oven, I started seeing the top of the pie start to solidify and form.  But then, also like the rainbow, it started having fleeting moments – one second I thought it was done, but then I realized the middle was still liquidy.  When the top was done, the bottom wasn’t.  And just when I thought I had cooked it long enough and had made the perfect pumpkin pie, I pulled it out of the oven only to be met with a mixed emotion – it smelled right, it looked right (except for a couple of overdone brown spots), but it’s beauty disappeared within the first cut.  The pie hadn’t set at all.  It was runny, the texture was off – almost grainy, of all things – and just plain not right.  It still tasted like pumpkin pie, but the texture was obviously not what it should have been.  I started to feel defeated, then, blamed nature (baking is never easy in a moist environment!), but then realized that was ridiculous.  After that, I blamed science – the chemistry of baking is a delicate and finicky art!  But that wasn’t the reason either.  My shortcut of using a pre-made pie crust had turned into a unpaved road of disaster since I hadn’t defrosted it all the way.  The heat from the oven created steam from the bottom of the crust, which rose into the pie, and did not escape.  I wonder, did Tyler Florence ever make such a silly mistake?

Nevertheless, I still had one more desert to redeem myself – my Cardamom Shortbread Cookies.  Being a crunchy cookie fan, I have a higher butter to flour ratio than other shortbread recipes, and slightly – purposefully – overbake them.  They do not taste like overcooked cookies, but rather nutty, with the warm spiciness from the cardamom breaking through the sugary shortbread sweetness.  And the cute leaf cookie cutters also seem to add a fall flare to boot.

Try and enjoy the stuffing, and definitely have fun with the cookies.  And learn from my mistake on the simplest recipe I had tonight – nature and science matter.  Completely defrost your dough.

Northwest Stuffing (serves 4-6)

  • 3 c diced cornbread (about 1 inch pieces)
  • 3 c diced sourdough (about 1 inch pieces)
  • 2 leeks, rinsed thoroughly and chopped
  • 4 med. celery stocks, rinsed thoroughly and sliced
  • 4 links chicken, apple, white wine sausage (can find at Trader Joes, premade.  Otherwise brown 1/2 lb ground chicken, and add 1 Granny Smith apple when sauteing, deglazing with 1/4 c chardonnay)
  • 3 leaves sage, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 c low sodium chicken stock
  • 1 beaten large egg
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • s&p
  • Butter, to line the 9 x 9 baking dish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat olive oil over med-high heat in a large saute pan.  Add leeks and celery, s&p, and saute until soft, but still has an bite (you want to keep the integrity of the veg).  Add the sausage, and heat until warmed through.  Add herbs, and taste for seasoning.  Turn off heat.

In a large bowl, combine the 2 breads, the beaten egg, chicken stock, and the veg and saute saute.  Mix very well to combine, and let the bread soak up the added liquid.  Pour mixture into the prepared baking dish.  Bake for 30 minutes until top is slightly browned and middle is soft but combined.

Serve on top of greens, squash soup, with your favorite prepared turkey, or by itself!


Cardamom Shortbread Cookies

  • 2 c room temp butter
  • 1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 c all purpose flour
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1 tsp cardamom
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or a silicone baking mat.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer.  Meanwhile, combine flour, sugar, and cardamom.  Add vanilla extract to the butter sugar mixture, and then add the dry ingredients 1/3 at a time.  When dough comes together, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a disk.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes (if you wanted to freeze the dough, now is the time to do so).

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until the disk is 1/8 inch in thickness.  Using whatever cutter you prefer, cut out cookies.  Re-form and re-roll dough to make more cookies out of the initial scraps.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until browned on top and crispy on the bottom.  Let cool.


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