As part of our continuing series on “How I spent the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving”, we present: fresh cranberry compote in three easy steps.
Step 1. Sort berries and combine with apple, orange zest, orange juice, sugar, and spices.
Step 2. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until everything is nice and warm and the cranberries have (mostly) burst open.
Step 3. Try to keep people from burning their lips and mouths on hot sugar and syrup when they are too impatient to let the compote cool a bit and insist on eating it right out of the steaming pot because geez, that smells good and when will it be ready, already?
Every sport has its own series of trials. Car racing, biking, running – all have time trials. Other sports have playoff trials to determine who is the ultimate champion of their specific endeavor.Even individuals have their own trials: mine, most recently, was of course getting through cancer and the aftermath, although my ongoing trials are dealing with users who can’t quite grasp rather simple concepts (yes, substitute your actual domain name for “yourdomain.com” in the link we just gave you).
A more pleasant series of trials, for everyone involved, is the kitchen experimentation. The banana bread mini loaves I made as a test? Gone, devoured by those who float in and out of the house. And no pictures, unfortunately, of the first batch. That will be rectified in the next, larger batch, as I have a bunch of bananas aging gracefully in preparation for their time to shine.
Apple-cheddar-potato soup, adapted a bit from a recipe my sister found in a magazine and thought looked interesting. Didn’t last long, but I managed to get a picture of one bowl, garnished with a bit more cheese and bacon (because everything is better with bacon!).
More crabcake testing. The mixture.
Still too crabby, according to the testers. Yet another round will be done to see if this can’t be fixed.
Do you kiss your dog on the mouth?
The mushroom turnovers turned out very well. These are based on a recipe my mom had, although me being me, I couldn’t follow it exactly as written. Where’s the fun in that?
A cream cheese and butter dough, rolled out and cut into circles, is filled with a mixture of minced mushroom and onion, sour cream, and a few spices.
The edge is sealed with an egg wash and a crimp, then a couple of steam holes are poked into each.
These, according to the notes my mom made, can be frozen before they are baked, and that is where those above are destined. As with any trial, though, there must be tasting. A few – the more ragged of the rolled out pieces of dough – were selected, brushed with egg wash, and put in the oven.
They browned nicely, tasted great, and the batch made just over 30. I can see already that more will be required for the feast.
“What do you think about Thanksgiving?” my mom asked me the other day.
What do I think about it? I love Thanksgiving. It’s absolutely my favorite holiday: fall, food, family, friends, and football. Everything is wrapped up into one tidy package for our enjoyment and amusement.
“The reason is that Angie [my aunt] has decided that she’s not going to have Thanksgiving at her place this year, ” she continued.
“Well then, ” I said, “we can have it here, can’t we?”
Of course we can. And since I am continuing to slowly but surely return to health, how about a menu devised and prepared by yours truly with an assist from my sous chefs here? And how about making just about everything from scratch and telling people to bring no food, only ice and whatever they might want to drink beyond the normal things we generally have?
A fine idea.
So, for those of you joining us for Thanksgiving this year, here is your menu. If you have any special requests or dietary restrictions that aren’t covered (the latter is unlikely, looking over things), let us know so we can make arrangements for those needs.
Four cheese phyllo puffs
Shrimp cocktail, traditional
Onion confit and brie crostini
Roasted butternut squash dip
Miscellaneous chips and dip
Roasted vegetable dip
Roasted red pepper and sweet potato soup
Roasted turkey, traditional
Apple-oak smoked turkey breasts
Glazed ham, traditional
Crabcakes (with 2-3 aiolis)
Shrimp, three ways (traditional cocktail, tequila-lime, asian saute)
Roasted garlic and buttermilk mashed potatoes
Stuffing, traditional, two ways (with and without pork)
Creamy baked corn
Sweet potato casserole
Green peas with pearl onions
Brown sugar glazed sweet potato wedges
Whole grain dinner rolls
Fresh Italian bread
Cinnamon (and cinnamon-raisin) loaves
Pies: cherry, apple, pecan, pumpkin
Fresh, homemade whipped cream
Homemade ice creams (vanilla, praline, chocolate)
Cranberry-chocolate chip biscotti
We’ll be letting people know what time to appear with their appetites.
Random questions from people who are stumbling across this blog, and answers from yours truly.
Have you considered putting up some forums?
No, I haven’t. I know it’s hard to carry on conversations in the comments, and it would be easier to have ongoing discussions (and ask questions of me) in a forum, but for right now, this is what’s available. I’ll consider it, though, as I do get that question pretty regularly.
Can you plan out some menus for me?
I can’t even plan menus to feed my own family, friends, and assorted guests, because schedules are so fluid around here.
Could you do it if I paid you?
That’s flattering, but not at the moment.
What’s your food philosophy for this lowfat menu creation you have going right now?
As you’re aware, family and friends have requested lowfat menus, and of course the challenge is for nutritious menus, which should not be laden with fat. I suppose at its most basic, my intent is to create food that people like, bearing in mind their particular requests as much as I’m able. Right now, that would be lowfat menus that taste good. This is not the same as no fat. If you’ve ever seen that Low Calorie Commando show on FoodTV, you can see the rather extreme substitutions the host goes through to eliminate almost every bit of fat from whatever it is he’s making, and that’s not what interests me. It is perfectly acceptable and reasonable to include small portions of things like real butter in cooking. The things I’m doing are not ultra lowfat, but neither do the menus include entire sticks of butter in their creation. Moderation in this, as in all things, and balance are the keys.
Have you seen that show Top Chef, or Hell’s Kitchen? What’s your “signature dish”?
I’ve seen episodes of both, yes, although I’ve not watched any of the new season of Hell’s Kitchen. I don’t really have a signature dish per se: I like to cook a wide variety of things, and luckily even my experiments turn out well. I don’t lean toward too many fussy type dishes. I mostly like to make food that people could make themselves if they were so inclined.
Would you consider opening a restaurant with the appropriate backing?
Maybe, but I think I’d probably not be an active worker bee in the kitchen. Designing a menu? Sure. Actually working the number of hours in the kitchen a restaurant would require if I were the chef? No. I’m simply not physically able to do it, as much as I hate to actually admit that, and I have no idea when (or if) I ever will be. I would not be averse to doing other things related to a restaurant, though.
Any progress on putting together your own prepackaged food items?
Not at the moment, but I really haven’t put any effort into it right now. My available time is limited, and I do have a primary business to run, so this is playing second banana for now. It would be nice, though, to be able to break into it.
What’s your favorite food to eat?
All time? Good lobster, simply prepared, with drawn butter. These days? Ice cream. In my dreams right now? A double cheeseburger. With fries.
If you could go anywhere and do anything right now, what would it be?
I’d move my family to the Italian countryside, own a small vineyard, grow grapes, make wine, and cook for people.
Have you ever had any formal culinary training? If not, do you plan to?
No and no plans at present. I had given some thought to the latter, but if I were to do that, I’d like to do it right. That would involve leaving town for awhile and would also involve a lot of time, neither of which is practical. I’ll remain self-taught for now.
Last (and certainly least), a question contained in an email from an anonymous person who seems to be one of those random people who thinks everyone else should be as bitter and nasty as they are: What makes you think you’re qualified to give anyone any advice on anything, especially cooking or making menus or how to eat on the cheap and what makes you think anyone would be interested in a book by some amateur like you anyway?
I never claimed any qualification other than being ready, willing, and able to take up the challenge presented to me, with both the rules and my role clearly defined. So I do what I can to take up the reins where others can’t because of their limitations (time, availability, ability) or inclination (because a lot of people read about subjects they would never themselves do). The latter is why books written by amateurs in specific subjects can be interesting and popular: many people will never be able or willing to go live in a 200 year old farmhouse in Provence for a year, but Peter Mayle and his wife did just that and it makes for good reading. Most people would never take on the task of cooking their way through a famous cookbook, but someone else did. Besides, I figure that doing things like this really annoys joyless, humorless people for some reason…
Since so little of this has actually been about food since I brought it back to life, I figured I’d give us all a break from the health stuff and talk a little about food. Sort of. Because everything you are informs everything you do and will do, of course there is an impact of what I’m going through now on what I’m looking forward to later.
One of the problems with getting radiation to your throat and mouth is the dampening of your taste and desire to eat. The taste buds themselves are just killed off, although they will come back after treatment ends. The issue I’m having with this is that as a result, I take a few bites of whatever, can’t really taste it, and suddenly my appetite thinks it has been sated. This, plus the general effects of treatment, is why I’m now down 14 pounds since the day I went into the hospital. I could have stood to lose a few pounds, but I can’t really afford to lose a ton of weight.
I dream about food these days, and today while watching FoodTV before the football games came on, I thought about all the things that I’m going to eat as soon as I’m able to taste things again and swallow them without choking.
Guacamole. Right off, that’s one thing I’ve been craving. I’ll be making that – and taking pictures – as soon as possible after we’re finished with all of this. And maybe a fresh roasted chicken/spinach/jack quesadilla to go along with it, with some sour cream on the side and some of my favorite sweet chili sauce.
Molasses-brined pork chops on the grill, with some steamed zucchini and onions, and perhaps some shoepeg corn.
Homemade barbeque sauce over some slow-grilled ribs, moist cornbread, and black-eyed peas.
A grilled turkey, tomato, and gruyere sandwich with a dijon-sour cream-red onion spread – this is fantastic.
Sushi. But not from my favorite sushi place here in town: this time, I’m making it myself. Even if it’s not right the first roll, the upside of all of this is that you can eat your mistakes. Maybe some tempura and dipping sauce to go along with that. I might have to move this up the list. Get some sushi-grade tuna, some crab, shrimp, veggies, and go to town.
Bread. All kinds of bread (assuming that my saliva issues aren’t so severe and long lasting that I can once again eat bread, that is). More cinnamon bread and whole wheat bread, and I could kick myself for not getting pictures of the last batches I made before surgery. Focaccia. Ciabatta.
Pastries, once my taste buds are back and I can taste sweets again. Tarts and pies and cookies and fudge. I could get into baking big time.
Homemade pork sausage, maybe with a touch of apple and me controlling the spices. Eggs benedict, with fresh hollandaise. Grits.
Fresh fruit. Fresh veggies. All kinds.
And a whole host of other things. Since I’ll be cooking just for myself, and maybe roping my family into taste testing – they’ll taste just about anything – and don’t have to worry now about food issues that belong to someone else, the sky really can be the limit. You lucky dogs will get not only my ramblings on that, but my renewed interest in photography to go along with it.
What do you crave when you’re in a mood?
Years ago, I never cared for guacamole. That’s probably because every version I’d had was processed into something resembling the stuff that could be found in a baby’s diaper after a particularly bad intestinal bout.
However, I sampled some made by one person that wasn’t quite so processed, and found that it could be quite tasty. I’ve modified it a bit, as hers tended to be a little too watery if it sat for awhile, and I like mine a bit stronger, so I use more red onion and garlic. This is a great taste as you go kind of thing, and the amounts can be adjusted to suit whatever tolerance you have for the various ingredients.
Primo guacamole (serves about half a dozen, or 2-3 hungry people, or 1 person who doesn’t like to share)
6 slightly soft Haas avocados
2 medium tomatoes
4-6 cloves of garlic, finely minced (depending on your tolerance)
1 – 1 1/2 cups diced red onion (ditto)
Fresh cilantro, minced (to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
Place the avocado meat in a good sized bowl, and mash it a bit with a fork. Personally, I like my guacamole a little chunky, so some diced-sized pieces of avocado are always welcome. Squeeze lime over the avocados immediately to prevent browning.
Quarter and seed tomatoes (this will keep it from getting watery on you). Chop roughly and add to avocado mixure, stirring gently to combine. Add remaining ingredients and stir a bit more. Give it a taste, make any spice adjustments, and enjoy.
Because sometimes, you just need some chocolate.
1 3/4 cups (unbleached) all purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup plus 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (minis)
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
2 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoon water
3 egg whites
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350.
Sift the first five ingredients into a bowl and stir well.
Combine 3/4 cup chocolate chips plus the oil in a small saucepan and heat on low, stirring constantly, until chocolate melts. Pour the chocolate mixture into a large bowl (preferably the bowl of a Kitchen Aid or other mixer) and let cool for five minutes. Add corn syrup, brown sugar, vanilla extract, and egg whites* to chocolate and stir well. Add flour mixture and remaining chocolate chips to the wet ingredients and stir well. The dough will be slightly dry, but should stay together if pressed in your hand.
Drop by level tablespoons about two inches apart on baking sheets coated with cooking spray or (better) onto Silpats. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes. Let cool for 2-3 minutes, then move to wire racks to completely cool. Do not store these cookies in the open air.
If you use an ice cream scoop (dip) to drop the cookies, use a smaller one, as otherwise you will get uneven cooking and the outer eges will be crispy while the center is raw.
* Egg whites: I used a carton of egg whites (All Whites) for this recipe. Three tablespoons equals about one large egg, so I added five tablespoons to the mix initially. When adding the flour, my mix wound up a little dry, so I added a bit more egg white while the KA was mixing for me until the dough was moist enough to stay together but still dry enough to retain the chewy factor after baking. The total egg white addition was probably about seven tablespoons. Your mileage may vary, so adjust according to your needs.