Friday, November 30, 2007

Thanksgiving!!! Candied sweet potatoes (p. 302), Bread and mushroom stuffing (p. 533), Mashed potatoes (p.295), etc

Thanksgiving!! Hooray! A holiday where the main focus is where it should be--on food!!

My mom, who usually does the cooking, is experiencing neuropathy with her chemo, which makes her really sensitive to hot and especially cold. Even though we have a little thanksgiving each year (this year it was me, my mom, Josh, and his brother), it still requires a lot of cooking. So I decided to do what I could to help (and knock out some Joy recipes along the way).

First things first. What oven-cooked item could I make early so it wouldn't crowd the turkey? Candied sweet potatoes (p. 302) seemed like a good choice--and a serving size of 4! Perfect. We wouldn't have ten years worth of leftovers (and I only had 5 sweet potatoes--exactly what the recipe calls for). These were good. Not overly sweet and without marshmallows, two things I like in sweet potatoes. They also heated up really well. They were only made with four potatoes though--the last one had some gross black thing in the middle--it had to be culled from the herd. I made the recipe without lemon zest because I DESPISE zesting--well, at least until I get a microplane...

So why is there only one picture of this? And it's AFTER cooking? I forgot! No good reason--well, and the camera wasn't charged. But they do look tasty.

The only other thing I needed the oven for was toasting the breadcrumbs for the stuffing. My mother was absolutely horrified that I didn't need her to buy me ready made breadcrumbs. TJOC is big on toasting your own breadcrumbs, so I just needed her to buy white bread. That sounds easy--but getting you 100% Italian mother to buy pre-sliced white sandwich bread is not a simple task. She eventually did it, but not without a lot of complaints.

I decided to make Basic bread stuffing (p. 532), modified to Bread and mushroom stuffing (p. 533). Toasting the breadcrumbs wasn't difficult at all and they were beautiful and golden brown...

The bread pre-toast:

The bread post-toast--look how pretty it is!:

Mom was convinced this recipe was going to amount to--how did she so eloquently put it??--oh yes, stuffing a loaf of white bread up the turkey's ass. (As you can see, she's a back-seat cooker). She didn't need to worry--the stuffing was heavily spiced. I would never have thought to put nutmeg or cloves in there--although they were really good. You could definitely taste both flavors, but they were good. I mixed cremini and button mushrooms for the mushroom mix--I would have mixed more but Iowa has a pretty sad mushroom selection. I baked the stuffing in a casserole dish rather than inside the bird, so I added more broth so it wouldn't dry out. I also added two eggs which made a more firm stuffing.

Mixing the breadcrumbs and spices:

Pre-cooking--with tasty bits of butter on the top:

The tasty stuffing, after being shoveled onto everyone's plate:

I LOVE Yukon Gold potatoes. They are soooo good. So obviously, Mashed potatoes (p.295) were among the first things on my list of items to make. I was suspicious that TJOC wouldn't be able to live up to the wonderful Cook's Illustrated recipe that I made last year. And they weren't. The potatoes were good, but not great. Josh always enjoys the mashing process, I think it allows him to get out his frustrations in a healthy way. These cooked WAY faster than I expected, so they were done too early, which made me angry.

They tasted better than they looked:

At this point I was done with everything I had planned on making. But there were a lot of button mushrooms left over. So I decided, on a whim, to make Broiled stuffed mushroom caps (p. 284) stuffed with Basic flavored butter (p. 558) flavored to Garlic butter (p. 559). Oh were these great!! They were the hit of the holiday and gone in about thirty seconds. I can't recommend these enough--they were really easy and good. And the garlic butter was easy to make once I decided to mince the garlic in the world's smallest food processor. They would have been great on toast--sort of like snail-free escargot.

The butter--it makes quite a bit, I recommend having more than one use for it or halving the recipe--

The mushrooms pre- and post- broil. Thy tumbled all around! But were still nice and buttery:

So why didn't I make the cranberries? I said on the last blog I was going to...well, I specifically told my mother not to mince them and she did anyway. Unfortunately, that knocked my recipe out. And what about the pie? I'm not sure why that one didn't happen--I'm guessing lack of time.

Two more quick pictures--the turkey, although I only washed it, deserves it's day in the sun. It was very pretty. And Josh tried his hand at the electric slicer :) is a really cool "charity". It isn't really a charity--it's a micro-lender, so you make little loans (right now you can only donate $25 to each one) to needy people and they pay you back. Most of the lenders have a 0% default rate, so you will get your money back, but your helping someone who needs it. I just made four loans--all to people trying to get started in agriculture, three to pig farmers (I have a soft spot for pigs!). It's a good deed, especially around the holidays. And you're helping people get on their feet so they won't need charity any more--how great is that? If you decide to do it, use me (email me for my username!) as a referral--I don't get anything but I would like to know if I influence anyone to make a loan :) As fellow food-lovers, I implore you to get involved :)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Chicken Cacciatore (p.433) and Becker Chicken Soup (p. 134)

So Josh and I bought a package of chicken thighs at the grocery store. I love chicken thighs--they have a taste (unlike the breast, most of the time) and they are INCREDIBLY cheap. This being said, I was under the impression that I was going to feel like cooking a lot more the week I bought them and they had been "aging" (hmm...chicken doesn't tenderize through aging...) in my refrigerator. I didn't want to end up throwing them out--what a waste! But we already had some in the world's smallest freezer and didn't have room for more. So I decided to use them all (novel, I know! ).

I made chicken cacciatore (p.433). Now, my family has a chicken cacciatore recipe and it is NOTHING like this one, so I didn't know what to expect. Our recipe doesn't have olives and has a hellava lot more tomatoes, so I didn't know what to expect.

The first strange part of this recipe? The fact that they seem to think I can fit 3.5-4.5 lbs of chicken thighs into a skillet. What skillet could fit that many thighs? Certainly not one I own! So I used six, which is what my skillet fit, and I think it was the perfect ratio of chicken:sauce.

This recipe is really good. I used oil cured olives, like it asked for, and they were awesome. I would recommend using even more than the recipe calls for, if you like olives. The mushrooms were also good. The chicken was tender, although the skin got kind of gross, so I would recommend skinning the chicken before using it. And the final test? It heated up great! In our house, this is a big deal :)

The onions and them, they desperately want to burn!

Adding the chicken and tomatoes--it isn't very tomato-y, I'm warning you!

The finished product. Doesn't the sauce look tasty! Man, I'm getting hungry just thinking about it....
So I still had about four chicken thighs left over. What to do with them...first I thought to make chicken tortilla soup, but I didn't have any avocados on hand and didn't want to go to the store. So I decided to make Becker Chicken Soup (p. 134) with the thighs. I even got to use the chicken stock I made previously! It wasn't enough but it gave the soup a great chickeny taste. Four thighs was definitely enough chicken, even if you like a lot of meat in your soup.

I also used more curry than it called for--and it was delicious! Josh happily ate this for days. I think it would be better if you added either noodles or rice though...

Just as the soup starts to bouquet garni is not in a cheesecloth, but it's easy enough to remove anyway.

The (tasty) final product:

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Black Bean Soup (p. 133) and Tomato Meat Sauce (p. 563)

So...hmm...well...I've been a terrible blogger! You've placed your faith in me and I haven't been blogging. Do I have any excuses? Of course--but they aren't good enough (I've been sick, in Mexico, and worried that my boyfriend's cancer that was previously in remission might be back). What's worse? That I have several recipes that I cooked, took pictures of, and didn't blog about!!

So I'm going to double blog today. But what do you have to look forward to? THANKSGIVING! The holiday that is ALL about EATING! My mom is in charge of the turkey, gravy, and pumpkin pie, but she's undergoing chemo for colorectal cancer and can't finish the meal. So I'm making mashed potatoes, candies sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, a vanilla cream meringue, and the stuffing. How exciting is that!!

So, you know, I had the beans that had been soaking, to be made into Black Bean Soup (p. 133). As a holder of a meat science degree, I couldn't make my soup vegetarian, although it easily could be. I used salt-pork, which is like a chunk of bacon. I also put ham into the soup, which made it more hardy. With some cheese on the top and some Ritz crackers--it makes one hellava meal! But be forewarned--it makes a TON of soup. Be ready to eat it with a lot of people or you will have a bunch left over. Since I'm the only person in the house who likes beans, I ate this for days, but it was really good.

One big warning. When you drain the beans, you're supposed to reserve the juices. Well...whoops! Still worked though! I added a little of my homemade chicken stock to flesh the flavor out a little.

The celery, onion, carrots, spices browning nicely:

 doesn't LOOK like black bean soup yet...although the black pork is a little creepy looking...

What a difference 3 hours makes! It really helps if you have a normal sized food processor too...

In real life, it looks much less like mud :)

Since I was in a cooking mood, I also made Tomato Meat Sauce (p. 563). Of course, I knew from the start that white-bread TJOC probably isn't the end all of Italian cooking. That being said, this sauce was pretty good. I used salt-pork for it, instead of bacon or pancetta, because I had it left over from the black bean soup. It was very tasty--like cracklings in your sauce! The sauce is very tomato-y because of the whole tomatoes. I recommend it--I think it will freeze well. Of course, that would be a lot more helpful if we weren't cursed with the world's smallest freezer...

My one problem with that the recipe required 1 T of tomato paste...what the heck am I supposed to do with the rest of the can???

Browning the beef and salt-pork in olive oil...YUM!

Mmmm...smells great! And super easy...

The finished product--ready to go in the freezer (the picture looks like you are going to dive right in!):

Monday, November 5, 2007

Household Poultry Stock (p. 118), Bouquet Garni (p. 960), Baked Polenta (p. 349), Curry Mayonnaise (p. 580)

First of all, I have decided to abstain from cooking Mexican food this week :) I'm nervous about my research and don't really want to think about the trip!

Second, I'm pretty sure people are reading this blog who I don't know in real life--that is super exciting! Also, if you decide to make any of these recipes, go back and comment on how yours turned out. If you want to take a picture of yours and email it to me, I'll post it on the blog!

Yesterday I got highly motivated to cook. First item I wanted to make? Black bean soup. So I got out my black beans, started reading the recipe....uh oh...beans need to soak overnight! So I guess that will have to be made Monday!

So what else to make...

I had the leftover carcass from a rotisserie chicken that we bought at King Soopers. I had no idea what to do with it but it still had some meat on the bone and it seems wasteful to throw it away. So I decided to make Household Poultry Stock (p. 118). Super easy! Throw the chicken carcass and some water in a pot, boil it, throw some vegetables and Bouquet Garni (p. 960) into the pot, boil some more. Strain it and VOILA! Chicken stock. And it makes your house smell great--like chicken soup. Actually, the stuff I strained out of the stock looked pretty damn good too--it would probably be good if you wanted to eat it.

So am I still going to buy chicken stock at CostCo? Yes, because we use a TON of it. But I will make all of our chicken carcasses into stock too...

All of the ingredients boiling away:

The strained stock--look how tasty!

What to make next? We got a nice big hunk of salmon at Costco and Josh was highly motivated to grill it so I didn't need to help with the main course. But what could I make as a side dish? Baked Polenta (p. 349) was something I had all the ingredients for...

Now, I don't know how many of my readers are of Italian heritage. I am and my mom and noni made polenta for me all the time. We would have it with sauce on it and the next day, we would slice it, fry it, and eat it with maple syrup. This recipe is not like my families polenta.

TJOC has 4 polenta recipes, but this one is strange.

Reasons why this recipe is strange:
1. It has swiss cheese in it. Any cheese is strange in polenta, except maybe Parmesan. But swiss? How Italian is that? Very odd.

2. It tells you to slice three kinds of cheese (well, slice swiss and mozzarella, measure out some Parmesan). Then it tells you to put half in the middle and half on top. Half of what? Half of all the cheeses? Or half of the cheese in general? I put the swiss in the middle and the mozz and parm on the top...

I hate vague instructions!

So how did it taste? Pretty good. Odd, but good. I think it would be better with some sauce on it.

Browning the onions in olive oil...

The constructed polenta pre-oven

Nicely browned and tasty-looking!

So what else could I make? It seemed like a good idea to put some sort of sauce on the salmon. I decided to make Curry Mayonnaise (p. 580). OMG! This was delicious. TJOC recommends using it in chicken salad...I'm totally going to next time I make it. If you like curry you have GOT to make this! My favorite way to eat it is to mix the leftover salmon in the curry mayo the next day and eat it on Ritz crackers (I'm obviously a gourmand!).

Until next time!