HOME COOKING I: A Hard Sell or a Sweet Deal?

Much as I like to cook, I’ve got to admit home cooking today is a hard sell.  With so many restaurants and take-out options, rattling those pots and pans in your own kitchen is way down on the list of options.  And did I mention clean up?  Despite all kinds of gloomy news about diet, health, and mass-produced foods, home cooking will not seem like a sweet deal unless it feels convenient and easy. 

So here are some Persuasive Tips:

  • Enjoy being the Boss of your table.  Cooking at home means you control the taste, the portions and the ingredients.  Even if you aren’t in love with your own cooking now, you know what you like to eat and with a little practice, that will translate into tasty meals.

Overheard: “I love pear, spinach and gorgonzola salad but I hate the candied pecans and cranberries”.   The Home Cook thinks: “Hmmm, make it at home with salty pecans, no cranberries and save about 6 bucks.”

  •  Avoid huge weekly shopping trips.  Buy less and you’ll have less to haul in the house, put away and feel guilty about when you throw it away 10 days later.  A young professional woman I know told me this: 

 “Almost by accident, I started picking up a few things for dinner on my way home from work.  It has become a habit because I found that I could put a meal together quickly and everything was so fresh.  And here’s a bonus: I do very little impulse shopping when I’m in a hurry to get home!” 

  • Keep some ingredients on hand and have a couple of ‘pantry’ recipes so you’re never stuck without something for a meal.  What should be ‘on hand’? One or two types of pasta, some rice, canned beans, tomatoes, tuna fish, some frozen vegetables – those are staples.  Also have a small stash of  the slightly exotic (you know what you like) such as: hearts of palm, olives, capers, pine nuts and Parmesan (these last two can be frozen).

  • Instead of no time … more time.  While you’re stirring the pot, the kids can do homework, set the table or take the dog for a walk.  The thirty minutes your meal is in the oven is time for you to read the mail, call a friend or watch the news.  All of which beats sitting at a table, waiting for the pizza to arrive.

“Alex hates eating out!” my daughter-in-law told me about her 12 year old.  Not all children feel that way but for many people, regular meals at restaurants are time-consuming, stressful and so, public. 

  • Save $…. for a really nice restaurant (or a vacation or lots of other stuff)  rather than twenty trips to the ‘family friendly’ joint down the street.  Bottom line: it’s cheaper to eat at home.

So, strap on an apron and try these fast ‘n easy menus.

The Roast Chicken Meal

The Pantry Pasta Meal

The Cozy Casserole Meal

The Roast Chicken Meal

Roasting a cut-up chicken takes half the time of a whole chicken and is just as juicy and crisp. Omit the mustard to make things even simpler.  Serve this with French bread (you can keep some in the freezer), a green salad or the following green bean salad.  A simple dessert: baked bananas.

Roasted Chicken

Serves 4, generously

4 chicken leg quarters or 1 cut-up chicken

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the over to 450 degrees.

Place the chicken in a  baking dish or roasting pan and smear each piece with a little mustard. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.

Roast for 30 minutes. The chicken skin will be well browned and crackly. Lightly salt the chicken, remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes.

Green Bean salad with Walnuts and Red Onion

When I cook vegetables like green beans or broccoli, I think it’s very important to test them as they cook rather than rely on specific timing.  I like beans well cooked but a lot of people like them crunchy.  Suit yourself!

1 pound green beans, fresh or frozen

2 tablespoons walnuts, broken up

1/4 red onion, thinly sliced  (or 2 Tablespoons minced shallot or regular onion)

Vinaigrette:

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

If using fresh green beans, wash them and snip off the tips.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the beans for about 6 minutes.  Fish one out and check for doneness.  When done, drain the beans in a colander and run cold water over them.  If using frozen beans, follow package instructions cooking for the least recommended time and let cool a few minutes.

Toast the walnuts quickly  in the microwave for about 40 seconds.

In a bowl large enough for the beans, make the vinaigrette by stirring the olive oil into the vinegar in a thin stream.  Add a couple of good sized pinches of salt and pepper.  Add the beans, walnuts and onion and toss to coat.  Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if necessary.

Baked Bananas

for each serving: (children and light eaters will eat 1/2 a banana)

1 banana

Brown sugar

Butter

Preheat oven to 375. Slice the bananas lengthwise and then cut each half crossways into one inch sections without going through the peel.  Arrange in a baking dish, sprinkle a little brown sugar (about 1 teaspoon) on each half and dot with a little butter.  Bake about 15 minutes or until the surfaces are bubbling.  The peel will turn black.   Serve the bananas in their peel with a spoon, pouring over any of the accumulated syrup.

The Pasta Pantry Meal

The challenge? A meal in 30 minutes with what you’ve got on hand.  Guess what?  It’s no sweat!  The menu: Pasta with tomato sauce, spinach and dried fruit compote.

Pasta with Tomato Herb Sauce

This is about as simple as it gets but you end up with a tasty sauce.  Adding the extra olive oil at the end is very important for the flavor.   If you have an onion, sauté it for a few minutes before adding the tomatoes.  If you can unearth some Parmesan cheese, by all means, pass that around.

1 pound pasta (whatever you’ve got but spaghetti or linguine is a good choice)

Olive oil

1 garlic clove, crushed or ½ teaspoon garlic powder (optional)

1 can tomatoes

1 teaspoon dried herbs: oregano, basil, rosemary or marjoram (or a few pinches of each)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  In the meantime, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and if using fresh garlic, sauté it for a minute and then add the tomatoes and their juice, breaking them up with a spoon.  Add the dried herbs of your choice and garlic powder if desired. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Cook the pasta according to package directions but be sure to taste it for doneness rather than rely slavishly on the instruction time.  Drain and put in a large bowl or on individual plates.

Add 2 additional tablespoons of olive oil to the sauce, stir and pour over the pasta.

Spinach

For a pantry meal, I always try to have some kind of frozen vegetable on hand and spinach is a favorite.  I cook it as little as possible, drain it and serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a dash of vinegar and a pinch of dry red pepper flakes.

Dried Fruit Compote

This can simmer alongside your tomato sauce and be ready in time for dessert.

2 cups dried fruits: apricots, apples, pears, prunes

1 fresh apple or pear (optional), peeled, cored and chopped

2 tablespoons chopped almonds, walnuts or pecans

A piece of cinnamon stick, orange peel or vanilla bean

Juice, wine or water

Put the fruits (a mix of your choice), the optional fresh fruit and flavorings in a saucepan.  Cover barely with water, juice (diluted by half with water) or wine.  Simmer gently until softened.  Serve warm or cold.  A dollop of ice cream or yogurt is good on top.

The Cozy Casserole Meal

It takes several minutes of sauteeing to put this together, but it’s still a speedy dinner.  Serve with a green salad and chocolate pudding.

Sausage Gratin*

A cozy winter or autumn meal.  This is another recipe can be adapted for what you have on hand. The mushrooms, leeks and apples give the dish a very smooth texture and good taste but you can substitute 2 onions for the leeks and omit the mushrooms if you wish.

Serves 4 

1 pound Italian sausages (pork or turkey)

¼ pound mushrooms, quartered

4 medium leeks

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 apples, peeled, cored and chopped roughly

½ cup grated cheese (Gruyère or Swiss are good choices) 

In a skillet, brown the sausages briefly and set aside.  Sauté mushrooms lightly in the same pan, adding a little olive oil if necessary. Set aside.

Wash off the leeks, cut off the green ends and slice the white and pale green parts into thin rounds.  Put the sliced leeks in a big bowl of water and stir them around with your hands. Let soak a minute or two so that any remaining sand will fall to the bottom of the bowl.  Scoop the leeks up and out of the water.

Using the same pan as for the mushrooms and sausages,  heat the olive oil and cook the leeks covered on low/medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

In a baking or gratin dish, place a layer of cooked leeks followed by the sautéed mushrooms, the chopped apple, the sausages and the cheese. Bake at 350 for 20 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned and bubbling.  

* French Lesson! ‘Gratin’ in French means crust.  A dish that is ‘au gratin’ often has melted cheese or breadcrumbs on top.  In English, we have an expression ‘the upper crust’ for rich people.  In French, it is similar: high society folks are referred to as the ‘gratin’. 

 Chocolate Pudding: Homemade and Speedy The famous chef, Michel Richard, has a recipe called ‘Happy Kid Pudding’ in his recent book Happy in the Kitchen and my recipe closely follows his.  It is simple and delicious.Serves 4 

2 cups milk

4 egg yolks

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 cup honey

4 ounces dark chocolate, cut in small pieces

In a big bowl (microwaveable), mix the milk, egg yolks, cornstarch and honey together, stirring with a whisk until well-blended.  Add the chocolate and microwave on high for 2 minutes.  Whisk up the mixture and microwave again for 2 minutes.  Stir again well and by now, the chocolate should be melted.  Microwave again for 2 minutes.

At this point, the mixture should be boiling and thick but if not, microwave again for about a minute.  Cool for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Enjoy your home-cooking and write with any questions!

Cheers, and xoxo, Mary

Hashing over the Holidays with some Festive Recipes

Okay, the holidays are over but I am still relishing the memories.  And the leftovers. 

My friend Bonny Wolf’s book Talking With My Mouth Full was about my favorite gift and it’s great reading.  Here’s a quote:

“We cook and eat for comfort, nurture and companionship.  We cook and eat to mark the seasons and celebrate important events.  We cook and eat to connect with family and friends and with ancestors we never knew.  And through this baking and breaking bread together, we come to know who we are and where we came from.”

My son-in-law JB’s sauerkraut balls, daughter Jessie’s walnut spread, the cut-out Christmas cookies produced by grandchildren aged 4 to 12 and my friend Katy’s Nuts and Bolts  all played a part in celebrating and connecting with our family and friends.  These recipes are not about healthy eating or fashion.  They are all about familiarity.  

Today, New Year’s Day, my husband Paul is making his father’s stew.  The house smells wonderful and we expect to have a fine time this afternoon with friends and family drifting in for a bowl of stew and a glass of wine.  Across town, my daughter Jessica is putting together her New Year’s black-eyed pea casserole.  Maybe tomorrow we’ll exchange leftovers.

Happy New Year!   

xoxo, Mary

JB’s Sauerkraut Balls

“Marrying a man who owns his own deep fat fryer is a leap of faith” said daughter Rachael recently as JB was preparing his famed sauerkraut balls.  A deep fat fryer does say something.  Something about commitment to the glory of crunch. You can fry these babies up in a heavy skillet as well. Just be sure to have enough oil, heat it up hot and don’t crowd the pan.

1/2 pound mild Italian sausage

1/4 cup onion, minced

16 oz sauerkraut, well drained

3 oz cream cheese (not low fat)

1 tablespoon parsley, minced

2 tablespoons bread crumbs

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup flour

2 cups breadcrumbs (panko Japanese crumbs are good)

Saute the sausage with the minced onion, breaking up the sausage so that there are no large lumps. Drain.

Chop the well-drained sauerkraut finely and mix with the sausage, cream cheese, parsley, crumbs, mustard and garlic salt. Chill for at least one hour or overnight.

Roll into small balls (a melon baller works well for this).  Dip each ball sucessively into the flour, the beaten egg and finally the bread crumbs. 

Heat oil in a deep fat fryer or a heavy skillet and fry the sauerkraut balls for about 2 minutes or until lightly browned.  Drain and eat right away.  They can be made in advance and reheated at 300 degrees for about 10 minutes.

Serve with a dipping sauce of half mayonnaise and half mustard.

Makes about 2 dozen balls.

Jessie’s Walnut Spread (“Real Sweet Totally Nuts!”)

“I got a huge amount of walnuts from my brother’s tree, cracked them, ground them and made this spread.  It was a fun project to do with the kids; cost pennies and made great gifts.” 

Shell and grind walnuts either by chopping or in a food processor. Add honey (that’s runny) to cover. Pack into small jars. 

Note: one pound of walnuts in the shell equals about 2 cups of nuts.

Katy’s (and Margaret’s) Nuts and Bolts

Talk about an old chesnut! Back in the glory days of the cocktail hour, Nuts and Bolts was a favorite nibble alongside that icy Martini.  My friend Katy Bayless tells me she makes it every Christmas for her neighbors.  Her recipe is exactly like my grandmother’s friend Margaret Edmonds from Columbus, Ohio.  

1 cup Rice Chex

1 cup Wheat Chex

1 cup Cheerios

1 cup pretzel sticks

1 cups mixed nuts

1/2 pound butter

To taste: garlic or onion salt*, dash of Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and salt.

Melt butter in a large pan (an iron frying pan is good) and add the cereals, nuts and seasonings.  Mix thoroughly.

Put in a 250 degree oven and stir every 15 minutes for 1 hour. Cool down and store in air tight containers or plastic close-able bags.

*Katy omits the garlic and onion salts but adds several dashes of Worchestershire. She also doubles the cheerios because her husband is crazy about them.  Suit yourself. 

Grandfather Leo Allman’s Beef Stew  

More of a soup than a stew, this recipe is homespun comfort itself.  It is one of those hand-me-down family recipes that instantly takes you back to a wintry day at home watching a good movie, that party with your best pals, or a night at the kitchen table with your grandparents.

2 pounds stewing beef, cut in cubes

2 tablespoons oil

Beef stock or bouillon cubes in hot water – about 2 cups liquid

2 large cans whole tomatoes (or stewed tomatoes)

3 carrots, peeled and sliced

5 potatoes, peeled and cubed

3 stalks celery, peeled and sliced

3 cabbage leaves, whole

3 bay leaves

Salt, pepper, miscellaneous seasonings*

Pat dry the beef cubes with paper towels.  In a big stew pot, heat the oil and sear the meat a few pieces at a time.  As each batch lightly browns, remove to a plate.* Put all the meat back in the pot and cover by about 2 inches with beef broth or hot water with beef bouillon cubes dissolved in it.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Add everything else and simmer very slowly for about 2 or 3 hours.  For seasoning, add about 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon of sage or thyme and 1/2 teaspoon paprika.  Check for salt before serving.

Serve in bowls with french bread.

Serves 4 to 6

* A word about searing. This process is intended to quickly brown meat without cooking it through.  If the meat is wet, or the oil is not hot enough or too much is put into the pan, the result will be a lot of gray meat with a lot of juice pouring out.  It will still be good in the stew but it won’t be seared.  So: Dry meat. Hot pan with some hot oil. No crowding. 

Jessie’s Lucky New Year’s Casserole

In her own words…

You cook greens (collard, mustard, chard, etc.) in a pan with bacon and jalapenos and water and apple cider vinegar.  Cook rice with jalapenos and bacon (sounding like a theme?) and cook black-eyed peas with anything hot you can find (pepper flakes, jalapenos, etc.) plus garlic and …Bacon!  Layer: rice on the bottom, then greens, then black-eyed peas.  Top generously with pepper jack cheese.  I like a little extra vinegar on top.

It’s Lucky!!

Here are a few more details:

1 cup dried black-eyed peas, soaked the night before (or 2 cans black-eyed peas) 

1 bunch (about 1 pound) fresh greens, washed and chopped

1/2 pound bacon

1 cup rice

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup (or more) apple cider vinegar

Jalapenos – fresh or pickled to taste

1 cup shredded jack cheese

If using dried peas, drain after soaking and cook in a large pan with about 2 inches of water to cover.  Add one jalapeno or 1/2 teaspoon pepper flakes, the chopped garlic and 2 slices of bacon, chopped.  Cook until peas are tender.  For canned peas, add the seasonings and a little water and simmer about 15 minutes.

Saute a few slices of bacon in a pan, drain some of the fat and add the chopped greens, jalapeno, a little water and about 2 tablespoons of vinegar.  Cook until tender.

Saute another slice or two of bacon in a pot and drain off some of the fat. Add the rice, stir to coat and add 1 1/2 cups of water (for jasmine or basmati rice or 2 cups for long grain).  Add some jalapeno, lower the heat to a simmer, cover and cook rice for 15 to 20 minutes until done.

In a large casserole dish, make layers starting with the rice, the greens, the peas and finally the cheese.  Sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of the vinegar. 

Heat thoroughly in a 325 oven until bubbly.

Serves 6

The Cut-Out Sugar Cookie 

Christmas is over but Valentine’s Day, President’s weekend, and spring break are on the horizon which means, for some of you, a few days at home with the kids in not-so-great weather without a plan.  A seasonal and cozy activity might just help. 

Here’s the challenge: the cut-out sugar cookie. Children really like making cookies with cutters but they always seem like such a pain. How do you make dough that’s not a sticky mess? How do they get  onto the cookie sheet and still sort of resemble what was cut out? Making cookies once a year or once every two years, I always forgot just how awful that whole process was.  But finally, I’ve figured out how to do it without a lot of teeth gnashing.

  1.  Make the dough the night before.  Have the kids help with the stirring and measuring if you must but remember, what they really like is the decorating so I suggest you start them out fresh the following day with the dough all ready to go.
  2. Roll the dough out on lightly floured wax paper.  Be sure your rolling pin is floured and the surface of the dough is floured.  Don’t use a lot of flour but keep adding just a little to keep things smooth.  Don’t dawdle with the rolling.
  3. Cut out the cookies with the cutters and then put the whole sheet of paper in the freezer for about 5 or ten minutes.  Once they’ve firmed up, it’s a snap to peel them off the paper and onto the cookie sheet.
  4. Line the cookie sheet. Parchment or non-stick baking paper is the best thing to have happened to home bakers that I can think of.  You can use your sheet pans over and over without washing in between and there’s no more prying the cookies off the sheet. Don’t even consider baking without this marvellous stuff.
  5. Set up a decorating station.  I use my dining room table, covered with a sheet.  For unbaked cookies:  Put various colored sugars in small bowls (the shaker tops are just frustrating). For baked and cooled cookies: Make colored icing (kids 5 and up can do this) using confectioners sugar, food coloring and a few drops of water to a spreadable consistency.  Have toothpicks or small brushes for painting.  Each child needs a little elbow room for their creations and to cut down on the squabbling.     

Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

This recipe can easily be doubled.  Once the first batch is started, you can get a kind of assembly line going and have the kids alternate cutting out cookies and decorating.  About decorating: colored sugar needs to be sprinkled on before baking.  Use icing after the cookies are baked and cooled.

1 cup butter, room temperature

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 2/3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Wax paper

Various cutters

Sprinkles, colored sugar, silver balls

For colored icings: small bowls of confectioners’ sugar mixed with a tiny bit of water. Add food coloring.

Toothpicks or small kid’s brushes

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar using an electric mixer until fluffy (this takes a few minutes).  Add the egg and vanilla and continue to beat.  Sift the flour with the baking powder, salt and nutmeg and stir into the butter mixture.

Shape the dough into a large (1/2 inch) square and cut into 4 equal pieces.  Wrap each piece in plastic and refrigerate overnight (or at least 3 hours).  Let soften about 10 minutes before rolling.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Using once piece at a time, roll the dough on a floured piece of wax paper to about a 1/8 inch thickness. Cut out cookies with the cutters (if they stick, dip them in flour) and put the whole sheet of paper in the refrigerator to firm up. 

Pull away the dough surrounding the cookies. Transfer the cookies to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and space them about 1 inch apart.  Put the scraps together and refrigerate them to reroll later.  At this point, the cookies can be decorated with sprinkles and colored sugar.

Bake until light brown, about 10-12 minutes.  Cool.  Plain cookies can now be decorated with confectioners’ sugar icing using toothpicks or small brushes.

Continue rolling and baking the remaining dough.  Store the cookies in large tins or other airtight container. 

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

Thanksgiving – Yikes!

It’s just a few days away and you’ve been asked to bring ‘something’… I suggest my friend Pat Devine’s potato dish.  One of the least exciting elements of getting the feast to table is how to keep things hot.  On Thursday, in thousands of households, there will be nail biting over last minute mashed potatoes.  But hold on there, pilgrims!

Pat’s potatoes can actually be made in advance and while you’re sawing through that turkey, her ‘souffle’ can be quietly heating up.  Try it!

I’m also including my sister Claudia’s turkey roasting method in case you misplaced it.  It does require that you stick around the house but that’s part of the holiday, right?

Careful readers will immediately scream “Retreads!” at these recipes but be charitable: 

Right now, I’m in Paris and cooking Thanksgiving dinner for 100 people who come to Jim Haynes’ house.  Jim has dinners every Sunday night for about 100 people and has been doing it for the past 30 years.  The cooks are volunteers and anyone can come for a modest contribution.  Thanksgiving is a lot of fun with a huge crowd of American, French, English and assorted other nationalities who either are homesick, hungry, curious or a mixture of all three. 

Jim admits he’s no cook but at Thanksgiving, he does have a favorite and this will appeal to the Southerner in all of you… If you’re having a hundred folks in your cozy living room, this should feed them nicely.  (But I’ll cut down the recipe just to be fair.)

Following are the recipes.  Gotta go and find some cranberries in this town!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Mary

MASHED POTATO SOUFFLE

I got this originally from Pat Devine, my neighborhood friend. It isn’t really a souffle but I call it that because it does puff up and get nice and brown on top.  It’s unusual to find a hot potato dish that can be made in advance and actually be reheated.  In fact, Pat used to freeze this. A great dish if you have to bring something for Thanksgiving dinner.  Don’t overdo the garlic.    

  • 10 (about 2 ½ lbs) medium red potatoes
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 8 oz sour cream
  • Garlic – 1 clove, minced
  • Chives (optional) – 1 – 2 teaspoons minced
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Butter 

Cook and mash potatoes.   Mix the cream cheese and sour cream and add to the hot potatoes.  Add the garlic,chives and baking powder  and put the mixture into a greased 8 inch baking dish or round souffle pan.  Dot with butter. Bake at 350 for 1 hour.  This can be made in advance.Serves 4 – 6 

LARGE RECIPE

To make the peeling simpler, I sometimes use russets instead of the smaller red potatoes.

  • 12 large baking potatoes or 5 pounds of medium red potatoes
  • 1 lb. cream cheese
  • 1 lb. sour cream
  • Garlic – 1 large clove, minced
  • Chives (optional) – 1 heaping tablespoon, minced
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Butter 

 

Proceed as above using two pans or one large oblong baking dish (13 x 9).

This will serve at least a dozen people.  It’s rich so just a spoonful will do if there are other vegetables.

 

CLAUDIA BUSHEE’S MOST DELICIOUS ROAST TURKEY

(Also, gravy)

Claudia’s method – which was her father, Derak Ward’s method first – is suitable for any size turkey.  It produces a beautifully browned bird that is perfectly moist. A package of Cheesecloth is an essential purchase. 

In her own words…

Clean and stuff bird.  Fold a large piece of cheese cloth so that it completely covers the turkey.  If the cloth is triple, that is fine.  Remove cheesecloth but keep it in its form.You are going to need at least a pound of butter, if not more.  Melt ½ pound in a little bowl.  Spread some on the naked uncooked bird.  Then immerse the cloth in the bowl o’ butter.  Slap the cheesecloth on the bird.

Every half hour, you must do some thing.  At the first half hour check, baste with butter on top of the cheesecloth.  Don’t be stingy with the butter.  The next half hour interval (so the bird has been in an hour), remove the cheesecloth.  Dip in water.  Get fairly wet but don’t wash all the butter out of the cloth.  Pour more butter over the cheesecloth once the cloth has been draped over the bird again.Alternate between just basting and pulling the whole thing off on the half hour.  Remove the cloth the last half hour to allow turkey to brown.

I follow the New York Times cookbook low temp roasting method to know how long to cook. 

Mary’s note: The low temp method is 325 degrees throughout; length of time depends on whether your turkey is stuffed or not (stuffed is usually an extra ½ hour cooking) and its weight.     

Turkey Stock

Plan to make this stock the day before Thanksgiving so that you can use it for the gravy. 

Neck, giblets, liver of the turkey

2 large onions, peeled and chopped in a rough dice

2carrots, peeled and chopped in a rough dice

3 stalks celery, chopped in a rough dice

Handful of celery leaves

A few garlic cloves

2 bay leaves

3 sprigs fresh thyme

5 sprigs fresh parsley

4 or 5 pepper corns

Place all ingredients in a large stock pot and cover with cold water.  Bring just to a boil and skim the accumulated foam from the surface.  Reduce heat and simmer very slowly for two hours.  The broth should have a robust taste but will be somewhat insipid due to lack of salt.  Strain and discard the meat and vegetables.  Stir in several spoons of salt or to taste.  Cool and refrigerate.  When cold, skim off the fat. 

Turkey Gravy

Turkey stock (see preceding recipe) – about 6-8 Cups

Pan drippings

¾ to 1 Cup flour

Salt and pepper

Bring the turkey stock to a simmer in a large pot and keep warm. Combine the accumulated pan drippings from the turkeys into one roasting pan, warm the pan over medium heat and add the flour (shaking it in through a sieve to remove lumps) whisking continuously.  Cook this mixture – the roux – until the flour is cooked (about 8 to 10 minutes, approximately).  Add the heated broth several cups at a time stirring with each addition. When the gravy reaches the desired thickness, lower the heat and simmer several minutes.  Check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper as necessary.  Let cool and reheat for serving.

Jim’s Glazed Carrots

This is less of a recipe and more of an engineering marvel.  Jim Haynes somehow perfected a method of packing a large pot with row after row of carrots, standing on top of each other end to end.  Once that’s done, the rest is easy.  

For 100 servings                                               For 25 servings 

22 lbs carrots                                         5 ½ lbs carrots            

2 lbs light brown sugar                          ½ lb light brown sugar  

1 lb butter, unsalted                              4 oz butter, unsalted

5 cinnamon sticks                                1-2 cinnamon sticks     

Salt and pepper                                    Salt and pepper

Water                                                               Water 

Wash and peel the carrots. Slice into julienne strips about 3 inches long and 1/2 inch wide. (Another general way to think of it is: cut the carrots in half, then each half in eighths)  They will not all be the same but take care not to cut the carrots too thinly or they will be too soft when cooked.

Now, the engineering part.  In the large pot, (we use a very tall-sided pot, but a fat will one do as well), stack the carrots in bunches on end.  Continue until the bottom of the pot is covered with a tight row of carrots.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Repeat with a second row on top of the first.  Continue in this manner until all the carrots are tightly pack in the pot.  There should be about 2 to 3 inches remaining at the top.Add water to the pot just to the top of the carrots. Strew on top of this:   the butter, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and a generous amount of salt and pepper.Bring the contents to a boil. (This will take quite some time)  Immediately turn off the heat. Keep the pot covered, leaving the carrots to cook as they cool down. They can simply sit there stewing in their juices for a couple of hours.  Reheat before serving if necessary but they stay hot quite a long time. 

  

 

 

Sunday Brunch

Awake, hungry and convivial.  It’s the weekend and I want brunch.

Brunches are a wonderful way to entertain because they’re relatively inexpensive, don’t take all day to prepare and there’s still daylight afterwards. Since most brunches start at 11 or even noon, you don’t have to arise at dawn to cook.

 

Serving buffet style makes for a comfortable casual occasion. When planning the menu, I try not to have too many items, which crowd the plate. I also try to balance the ‘good’ (fresh fruit) with the ‘yummy’ (bacon). Count out the platters, plates and flatware in advance to get an idea of how to set up the table.  When the brunch is ready, you won’t have to go searching for the right plate.  My daughter-in-law Trina Giese always has something ready when children arrive with cups and paper plates in easy reach.  This frees up space for adults and makes things a little more relaxed.

Make plenty of coffee and have tea as well but make it just as guests arrive so that it’s fresh.  Mimosas and bloody Marys are always popular at a brunch.  Mimosas are simpler since you can provide a pitcher of orange juice and then your guests can add their own champagne or sparkling wine.

Here are some uncomplicated menu and recipe suggestions for a Sunday brunch.    

#1 American! 

The French toast is put together the night before leaving just the fruit to cut up and the bacon and sausage to cook.

Fruit Salad

Baked Blueberry Pecan French Toast with Blueberry Syrup

Bacon and Vegetarian sausage

#2 Slightly Italian 

The frittata can be cooked in advance so you can spend your time arranging all that salami… 

Sudi’s Artichoke Frittata

Salami, Parma ham and Proscuitto

Sliced tomatoes and cucumbers

Basket of breads: (include something sweet here)  

#3 Deli Special

If you make the muffins a day ahead, you can read the newspaper before your guests arrive! It’s that easy!

A smoked fish platter

 (salmon, trout, herring, etc.)

Bagels, cream cheese and sliced red onions

Sliced oranges (or other seasonal fruit)

Pear Ginger Muffins

Baked Blueberry-Pecan French toast with Blueberry Syrup

This is a great recipe to make for a crowd and also to travel with – I’ve made it twice at a rented beach house and found the ingredients easy to pack and put together once you arrive.  You can use frozen blueberries in the winter months. The syrup only take a few minutes to make but plain maple syrup is fine on its own.

  • 1 baguette
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 1/2  cups milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup pecans, (3 oz)*
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 2 cups blueberries (about 12 oz)

For the syrup:

  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice 

Preparation:

Butter a 13 x 9 inch baking dish.  Cut 20 – 24 slices (1″) from the baguette and arrange them in the dish in one layer. 

Whisk together eggs, milk, nutmeg, vanilla and 1/4 C brown sugar and pour evenly over bread.  Chill mixture covered at least 8 hours and up to 1 day. Flip all the pieces of bread in the pan once so all the liquid is evenly absorbed.

Toast pecans in a dry pan or microwave (about 30 seconds), checking constantly to avoid burning.

Pre-heat oven to 400. 

Sprinkle pecans and blueberries evenly over bread mixture.  Heat the butter with remaining brown sugar, stirring until butter is melted.  Drizzle butter mixture over bread and bake 30 to 40 minutes or until any liquid from blueberries is bubbling. 

Syrup: Cook blueberries and maple syrup over moderate heat until berries have burst- about 3 minutes. Pour syrup through a sieve pressing on solids.  Stir in lemon juice. 

Serve French toast with warm syrup.  About 10 servings.

 

*Nut tip:  Store all nuts in the freezer well wrapped.  They go rancid fairly quickly on the shelf.

Sudi’s Artichoke Frittata

This recipe comes from my good friend Sudi Press, a natural and welcoming party giver par excellence.  She called these simply  ‘artichoke squares’ and served them, cut small, for cocktail hors d’oeuvres.  They are so good I’ve given the dish a fancier name and serve it in larger squares for brunch. 

  • 4 (6-oz) jars marinated artichoke hearts
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 8 eggs
  • ½ cup breadcrumbs
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • ½ teaspoon hot pepper
  • 1 pound shredded cheese (Swiss or cheddar)
  • ¼ cup parsley, chopped 

Drain marinade from 2 jars only of the artichoke hearts and discard.  Drain the marinade from the remaining jars and combine this liquid with the olive oil in a pan.  Heat and add the onion and garlic, cooking until soft. 

Combine eggs, crumbs, and seasonings.  Fold in cheese and parsley.  Chop artichokes and add them and the onions and garlic to the mixture.  Blend well. 

Pour into a greased large glass pan (13 by 9 inches).Bake at 325 for about 30 minutes.  The top will be browned and puffed slightly.  Cool a little before cutting into squares.   

Can be served hot or cold; can be prepared ahead and reheated 10 to 12 minutes. 

Pear Ginger Muffins

These very rich sweet muffins were baked at the Morrison Clark Inn in Washington, DC when I worked there.  

  • 12 tablespoons (6 oz) butter, melted
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • Big pinch salt
  • 1 heaping tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 firm pears, peeled and chopped in small chunks (about 1 cup) 

Combine sugars, flour, baking powder and soda and salt.  Add the eggs, milk, vanilla and butter and stir just to combine.  Should not be smooth.Add gingers and pears.

Bake in greased muffin tins (or use paper liners) at 375 for 20 to 25 minutes.

Makes about 1 dozen muffins.

Have a great brunch!

Mary

Feeding Our Young

Close encounters with my children and grandchildren have  gotten me thinking about how we humans feed our young.  From the helpless newborn (except for their amazing lung power) to the gobbling toddler to the picky nursery schooler, children need feeding.

Just how and what we feed our children is a hot topic. Here’s how I see it:

Cook fresh food for yourself. Extend this effort to your babies and children.

Recently, an acquaintance spoke of her sister who made her own baby food.   This, she felt, was a dreadful act of drudgery and a waste of time.  Hmm. That seemed odd. I called my dear friend, Katy Bayless, the next day. We were new mothers together some 35 years ago.

“Was making baby food all that hard?”

“No”, she said firmly.  “They just ate what we ate and we used the Happy Baby food mill.”

The Happy Baby food mill is still made and is a great little gadget small enough to fit in a purse or diaper bag.  The food is pureed and comes out the top so that you can feed the baby right from the mill at the table.  Of course, Katy was not suggesting that babies eat exactly what adults do but rather that when you cook, small portions, plainly cooked, are set aside for the baby.

The introduction of solid food to my babies was an exciting milestone, filled with new communication and a lot of comedy.  I followed the La Leche League advice on holding off on solids until 5 or 6 months to avoid allergies and then slowly added fruits and vegetables.

This advice has completely changed. Feed babies anything, the experts urge. As it turns out, the long drawn out introduction of foods exacerbates allergies rather than the reverse.

This makes things a lot easier.

How about a 21st century opinion?  At the eye doctor’s office a few weeks ago, I recalled that Dr. Jennifer Ballantine has a 6-month-old baby (as well as two school age children).

“Say, Dr. Ballantine”, I asked, “Do you make your own baby food?”

“Absolutely”, she replied. “And I do not have one extra minute in my day so if I can do it, anyone can.”

She went on to explain that growing up in the South, she had three choices at her school cafeteria: hot dog, hamburger, or chili Frito pie. “I had one of these choices every day with a soda from the vending machine.  My kids aren’t going to eat that way.”

So how does she do it?  Much the way Katy and I did.  She makes a little extra of what the family is eating and then grinds it up.

“I use a food processor and small Tupperware cups which I can freeze.  If the baby doesn’t eat it all, it’s literally a few pennies I’ve wasted.  I introduce each new food slowly – one over three days.”

Making Simple Baby Food

Finally, I asked Melissa Voorhees, mother of four,  a recent grandmother and in my book, a champion in feeding children. (My son, at age 6, used to go to her house to eat Brussels sprouts!)

Her warm words are better than recipes:

I always preferred kitchen duties to other household chores.  So cooking for my children was easy and I learned by doing as I went.  One thing is that they begin eating food so gradually that there is plenty of time to figure it out!  A food mill, a blender and fork to mash and the dailyness of it.

My mother raised us all in Brazil which in those days was decades behind the US in convenience foods so by necessity ,all of our food was made at home.  Her idea was to make a “little soup” of some bit of meat, potato, carrot and a green vegetable in broth and then whir it up in the blender.  There there was mashed banana, mashed avocado with lime, stewed fruit mashed with a fork or blended.  Then there was a morning oatmeal, milk mash, and that was pretty much it.  Not a lot of variety.

I, on the other hand, was on a mission to introduce lots of different foods so I went week by week adding something new.  I remember answering Dr. McDowell when he asked what foods I had given the baby up to that point.  He was dumbfounded by my long list and I felt like a star!  I used to make porridge out of different grains: oatmeal, or brown rice or millet and run it through the food mill.  also, all kinds of vegetables, fish tofu, lentils, beans.  Chicken or meat had to be a part of the little soup because by themselves, they were too grainy.  Legumes had to be run through the food mill with brown rice or they were too rough.

Babies love sweet potato, applesauce and banana. It is so natural to just give them a chunk of this or that to gum while you are preparing, although you have to be near because they can choke!  I always tasted what I gave them.  Homemade soupy brown rice run through a food mill is pleasant and sweet.

I think the whole feeding thing is a great place to interact with a baby, playing with them, experimenting…. You get the picture!

As Babies Grow Up

There are two goals for feeding babies:

  1. They eat enough good food to thrive
  2. They join the family at meals

The second goal may not seem obvious but I think it’s extremely important.  From a parent’s arms to the high chair to a place at the table is an important early journey.

To prepare the path, involve the baby in the feeding right from the start.  When you’re spoon-feeding, give the baby a spoon of his or her own to practice with.  (Incidentally, wear a raincoat).  Introduce finger foods early on that the baby can chase around the high chair tray.  It’s all pretty messy but worth it.

By age 3 or 4, children can use forks and spoons correctly, by 6 or so, they can cut their food (it’s easier if you provide them with a small steak knife) and by 12, they can be taught to carve the Thanksgiving turkey.

The skills learned early on extend to helping with meals and then to learning to cook.  Two year olds can help set a table and tear up lettuce for a salad; three year old can beat up an egg, sift flour and much more.  My friend, Molly Layton’s children could make wonderful quesadillas at age 7.

“It took patience and holding my breath as they learned to use the stove but it was really worth it.” said Molly.  “It’s easier and faster just to do it yourself but whenever I took the time to teach my kids a skill, I never regretted it.”

Picky Eaters

Past the toddler stage, children can get set in their ways when it comes to eating.  I learned recently that children need to taste a new food between 15 and 20 times before they will accept it willingly.  No wonder mac ‘n cheese is the route most tired parents take!

Expanding their repertoire is the role of parents but how to achieve it?

Bring the kids to the dinner table and have them eat what you eat.  Not 5-alarm chili and raw onions but what my sister Claudia calls the ‘brown-green-white thing’ or protein/vegetable/carbohydrate.  Don’t give them too much and do ask them to have at least one bite.  Twenty times later, they may actually ask for more spinach.  Prepare to hear howls of “Oh, no! Not squash!” but don’t put up with a lot of complaints.  Dinner should have some semblance of civility.

School and beyond

The now celebrated Chef Ann Cooper, the ‘Rengade Lunch Lady’ is a former chef who took on the school lunch program. Her aim, in fact, what she calls her ‘life’s work’  is to feed kids well in an institutional setting.  Lack of money, public policy that ignores school food and children’s health, and the commodity based food service providers are some of the issues she has tackled.   As a startling counterpoint, the French school system is often cited in terms of their budget (much larger) and the food itself (healthier and fresher).

I decided to see for myself.

A part-timer in Paris,  I am just across the street from an elementary school. As it turned out, my visit coincided with ‘La Semaine du Gout’ (The Week of Taste).  Every year in France, a week is devoted to teaching children about food and how it’s produced.  Some years, chefs go to the schools and give cooking and tasting lessons. Last year, the kids visited a chocolate factory.  This time, a cow named Marguerite was brought in from Normandy and installed right in the school grounds.

“This is to teach our city youngsters how the milk gets into bottles!” one of the teachers explained.  La Semaine du Gout is about more than that, however.  The program promotes good eating habits, the development of taste and appreciation of food and of course, the preservation of a very important aspect of French culture.

My American friend, Lee Hubert, who has lived over 30 years in France, added this:

“The French have seen the rise of obesity in the States and now in England.  They don’t want to wait 30 years before addressing the problem.  Fast food and processed food is popular in France so it’s a real concern.”

The diverting sight of Marguerite peacefully chewing her cud temporarily stalled my plan to see what French kids eat for lunch.  But it was easy enough to find out: the weekly menu is posted online and at the school door.  No surprise: dairy products were in the spotlight.  The children sampled French cheese, yogurt, milk and custard.  For each day’s menu, the specific food group (dairy, meats, raw and cooked vegetables, cereals, beans, and sugared products) is printed in a particular color, making it easy to see how the meal is balanced.  Each lunch has a starter, main dish and dessert.

My favorite was Friday’s meal:

  • Hearts of Palm
  • Cod in Lemon Sauce with Steamed Parsley Potatoes
  • Yogurt with a ‘fruit of the season’

Sounds healthy to me!  But back at home…

“The reason we don’t cook is because we don’t need to.” was the honest and realistic assessment I got from a young adult friend a few years back.  And it’s hard to argue that we need to cook in a country where prepared food whether it’s for babies, children, adults, dieters, or the elderly is cheap and available. An intelligent, attentive young mother told me recently that organic processed baby foods were ‘better’ for babies than home prepared food. Really?

The flip side of not cooking for ourselves is that we’re bombarded with alarming news about processed and prepared foods. We have marvelous resources: bountiful food supplies and tremendous choice for modest cost.  Feeding ourselves and feeding our young is basic, healthy, sensible…

And fun!  Well, not always fun but worth the effort? Definitely!

xoxo, Mary