Thursday, December 28, 2006

Blue Christmas

Ahh. We got to have lunch at The Winds yesterday. Sans Boot, we were free to take Pie without him having to pretend like he hates it and without having to hear from Boot through the whole meal how much it sucked. I was afraid we wouldn't make it there on time, but we squeaked in just under the wire.

I should have listened to my first instinct to order a steamed eggnog, but J talked me into trying a Poinsettia, champagne with white peach purée and crème de cassis. Sounded fabulous. Unfortunately, they had just run out of the peach purée. I opted to get a Kir Royale instead. It was good, but once I had finished it I found myself still wanting the eggnog. Their eggnog is house-made and when it's steamed, it's fabulous. J told me to go ahead & get it. I'm so glad I did.

Pie had plain buttered penne while J ordered penne with their very spicy vodka sauce. I had the Blue Christmas, which I always end up ordering in December. It's a whole meal in a bowl and is utterly wonderful. They cook Christmas limas in red wine with carrots and onions. This is served with basmati rice and a wedge of buttered cabbage, all scattered with crumbled blue cheese. Amazing!

For dessert, Pie shared a slice of their chocolate nemesis, almost as good as mine, with J while I indulged in a crisp meringue topped with vanilla ice cream, soft poufy whipped cream and a dollop of Scharffen Berger chocolate sauce. Heaven!

Gift Certificates

My Beloved got a gift certificate for Outback Steakhouse in her stocking, so when we had dropped Boot off for a couple days batching it with Grandpa, we took Pie to Outback. The wait was absurdly long, especially considering it was a Tuesday night and considering that there were three (and sometimes four) stick girls hanging out up front chit-chatting together. With all the open tables, the management would have done well to put those girls on tables and alleviate the labor waste.

Once we did finally get seated, though, our service was friendly and prompt. J & I both chose the filet, mine with a blue cheese crust. She had a sweet potato with hers, I chose a baked potato. Both were quite decent, as were the steaks. J added crab legs to hers, in the hopes of sharing them with Pie. We split an over-salted bloomin' onion (or some of it, until the salt got to be entirely too much) for our appetizer. We both had soup, a subtle onion-potato soup for me & a very fishy clam chowder for her. I also had part of a blue cheese chopped salad, but it was much too sweet for my taste so was not finished. Pie was not at all hungry & when that boy isn't hungry, forget it! He adores both steak & crab, so we knew when he refused them that he really wasn't ready to eat. All in all, the meal was good. However, I wouldn't bother with appetizers again.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Dining

Here I sit in my new tiara, kitchen tidied up & new snowflake dishes washing. I am on a triptophan drowse, but wanted to post while I was thinking about it.

For breakfast today, in addition to stocking candy, we had a breakfast casserole and gingerbread muffins. Pie adored both & in fact had a third muffin for his dessert tonight, Boot declined both and ate leftover pizza instead. I make breakfast casserole every Christmas and try a different sweet each year. Last year, it was sticky buns. I have been doing the casserole in the crockpot & adding frozen hash browns to it. The texture has been somewhat odd to me and it has also been getting a little overdone. This year, I decided to return to making it in the oven, to much better result.

Breakfast Casserole
12 slices buttered bread
16 oz. shredded cheddar (I always use sharp or extra-sharp cheddar)
1 lb. cooked sausage (I think hot sausage is a must when you have so many other bland flavors)
8 eggs
4 c. milk
Salt & pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a 13x9 baking dish, layer bread on the bottom, overlapping. Then, scatter with sausage. Top with a layer of cheese. Whisk the eggs, milk, salt & pepper together and pour over the rest. Bake 45 minutes.

Gingerbread Muffins
1 2/3 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
1 egg, beaten
1/3 c. dark brown sugar
1/3 c. light brown sugar
3/4 c. milk
1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
6 tbsp. oil
4 tbsp. dark karo syrup
4 tbsp. molasses
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix dry ingredients together. Mix egg with sugars. Add milk and balsamic vinegar. Add oil. Add karo & molasses. Add all of this to the dry mixture. Mix until combined but still a bit lumpy. Put in muffin cups and bake 20 minutes. Makes 12.
These were simply perfect for Christmas morning and made the house smell luscious. Next time I make them, I might add a sprinkle of coarse sugar to the top before baking.

Lunch was a free-for-all, with choices ranging from Hot Pockets to a leftover meatloaf sandwich to noshing on baked goods and stocking candy. Dinner was a reprise of Thanksgiving. J made a big gorgeous turkey, gravy and stuffing. I made Yukon mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and cranberry sauce. We also had some bagged spring mix with raspberry vinaigrette.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Who Needs The Melting Pot?

Not that I don't like going there, but I am perfectly happy to make my own fondue at home. During the West Virginia Christmas years, we usually had either quiche or fondue for Christmas Eve dinner. Those are Lenore's specialties. In fact, the first time I ever had fondue was as a child, visiting Lenore in her gracious Florida home. Now that I am exploring my Cuban roots, I make a Nochebuena feast of Cuban foods on Christmas Eve. The fondue tradition is important to me, too, though so I try to make it close to the holiday.

Cheese Fondue
1 clove garlic
1 c. dry white wine
8 oz. grated Gruyère cheese
8 oz. greated Jarlsburg cheese
2 tsp. cornstarch
3 tbsp. kirsch
Salt & pepper
Nutmeg, freshly grated
French bread chunks
Rub a heavy pot with garlic, leaving shreds of it in the pot. Add wine & bring to a boil. Lower heat & add cheese, a little at a time, stirring each addition until melted. This step is important or you will have clumpy fondue. Dissolve the cornstarch in the kirsch. Add to cheese. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Keep over a very low flame or in a fondue pot and serve with bread for dipping. You can also very lightly steam some veggies like cauliflower for dipping. If it gets too thick, you can stir in a small amount of hot wine to thin it. If you have leftovers, it's great over toast, too.

With this, I will serve a baby spinach salad and some orange wedges.

The Cookie Factory North

Down in West Virginia at this time of year, my almost-grandma Lenore turns her kitchen at the Homeplace into a cookie factory. She makes wreath cookies (my uncle loved these), eggnog logs, 7-layer bars, rum balls (although those have kind of become my thing), chocolate chip bars and brownies iced in white. Sometimes, if she is feeling ambitious, she makes cut-out cookies, too. I spent many happy hours laboring in the cookie factory with my mom & Lenore, then making deliveries to neighbors in the holler & up on the ridge.

Since with the advent of step-parenthood my Christmases are no longer spent in West Virginia, I have turned my Cleveland kitchen into the Cookie Factory North. This year, I have made candies as well. I started this morning with a batch of lemon poppyseed scones from a mix as a treat for my wife. Then, I moved on to peanut brittle. Next was a batch of cheese crisps. They are so hard to stop eating that I had to put them away.

Crazy-Good Cheese Crisps
4 c. shredded sharp cheddar
2 c. flour
2 c. crisp rice cereal
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne (or less, if you like less bite)
1/4 tsp. dry mustard
2 sticks butter, melted
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix everything together, using your hands. Form into 1" balls. Place 1" apart on ungreased baking sheets. Make criss-cross patterns on them by pressing down with a fork. Bake until the edges are golden, 10-12 minutes.

Next on my list was my first attempt at caramels. Aside from the pan being a smidge bigger than that called for, they turned out nicely! I had fun wrapping them in wax paper, too. Very festive.

Vanilla Caramels
1 c. heavy cream
1 c. sugar
1 c. light karo syrup
1/4 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. vanilla
Butter an 8" square pan or a set of flexible candy molds. Mix everything but the butter & vanilla in a tall-sided heavy pan. Heat on medium, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add butter, stirring to melt. Cook, without stirring at all, to hard ball stage. Add the vanilla. Pour into the buttered pan (unless using molds, in which case pour into a measuring cup & into the molds from that). Let cool 1/2 hour. Remove from pan and cut into squares. Let cool about 2 hours before wrapping.

Next came my specialty, chocolate rum balls. Lenore & I developed these when I was in my early 20s and I have made them every year since.

Chocolate Rum Balls
1 c. pecan chips (or hand-chopped pecans, if you feel like it)
1 c. Oreo crumbs (I buy these already crumbled)
1 c. powdered sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. light karo syrup
1/4 c. rum
Granulated sugar to roll the rum balls in
Mix the pecans & Oreo crumbs. Add the rest, except the granulated sugar. Shape into small balls and roll in sugar.

I moved on to Lenore's cousin's fudge after the rum balls. The recipe makes 5 pounds, so if you are baking in order to give treats to friends & neighbors, it's a perfect recipe.

Fudge from the Homeplace
4 1/2 c. sugar
1 can evaporated milk
1/2 c. butter
1/2 pound marshmallows
2 squares unsweetened chocolate
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
12 oz. sweetened chocolate
1 tbsp. vanilla
2 c. chopped nuts, optional (I never use them)
Put sugar, milk and butter in a tall-sided heavy pan. Stir over medium heat until sugar is completely dissolved. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 5 minutes. Be careful because this is prone to boiling over and makes a huge mess if allowed. Turn off heat, but leave pan on burner. Add marshmallows, stirring until melted. Add chocolates, one kind at a time, stirring each until melted before adding the next kind. Add vanilla & nuts (if using) and pour into buttered 13x9 baking pan. Cool completely and cut into squares.

J made her family's traditional Christmas cookie, worm balls. These are known outside her family as haystacks, slightly more appetizing to the non-avians among us.

Worm Balls
12 oz. butterscotch chips
5 oz. chow mein noodles
1 c. peanuts
Melt the butterscotch chips. Mix everything together. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto sheets of wax paper. Allow to dry 15 minutes.

All that is left to make now are marshmallow snowflakes and cut-out cookies. I think I will do those tomorrow since J wanted to help and is now napping on the couch. I'll be moving on to gift wrapping and dinner making for tonight.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Guaranteed To Horrify My Children

Although that's not why I make meatloaf. I simply love it. Freshly made or leftover and made into a sandwich, meatloaf has been one of my favorite dinners since I was a kid. My kids, though, think meatloaf is revolting, although Pie allows that mine is much better than his mom's. At any rate, in case any of you like meatloaf like I do (or if you just want to horrify your kids) I am offering the recipe I used tonight here.
1 1/2 sleeves saltine crackers, crushed
2 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. bulk sausage
1 egg
2 chopped onions
1/4 green pepper, minced (use more if you like...I'm just not big on too many veggies in my meatloaf)
1 c. ketchup
1/3 c. worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix all but 1/4 c. ketchup together. Put in loaf pan & cover with foil. Bake 45 minutes. Spread remaining ketchup over top. Bake uncovered 1 hour. Let stand at least 5 minutes before slicing.

I made Yukon Gold mashed potatoes & corn to go with this. As a result, I was picking corn up from the floor for several minutes after dinner. You'd think that once they hit a certain age, you could give up the under-table mat. You wouldn't think that that age would be some unknown time in the teens or twenties. You also wouldn't expect a 14-year-old to bring the corn pan to the table and, standing at his chair, begin to raise the serving spoon from the pan to his mouth! And you certainly wouldn't think that he would argue with your objection to this action! If Boot's future wife ever reads this: Honey, we tried. Really hard.

My Beloved Cooks

With my traveling schedule, I haven't been home for much of J's cooking, as she has been cooking primarily the days I am gone. She cooked last night & Wednesday night, both great meals. Wednesday we had, at Boot's request, fettucine alfredo with chicken in it. J decided to throw in a little bacon, too, which I am not sure how I felt about. I liked the flavor a great deal, but am undecided on the texture. Perhaps it needed to be a little crisper? Last night, she marinated some gorgeous New York strip steaks in porter ale, to be accompanied by corn and by pierogies fried with onions & garlic. Great stuff...the steak was the best I've had in a very long time. It's sure nice to be cooked for!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Crappy Indian Food

I am disappointed. The Indian restaurant nearest us is just not very good. Not only do they not have bhatura, the rest of their food just isn't where it needs to be. I wish that instead of Café Tandoor, we had our beloved Ajanta nearby. I know there is good Indian food in Cleveland, we just haven't been there. I sampled some delicious chicken tikka masala from Saffron Patch, but it's not nearby. I plan to drag my Beloved across town someday soon, though.

J had tried Café Tandoor for lunch before I arrived in town, when she first started her new job, and had reported back that their chicken tikka masala "sucked." Skeptical, I talked her into going back, thinking they had been having an off day. The food was okay (we ordered a different chicken dish, chicken in butter sauce) but nothing special. The naan was boring, the chicken was boring, the chai tea was not as good as Ajanta's. However, today I just had to try again. We shared some very tough palak paneer with mediocre chutneys accompanying it. Then, she had chicken korma which in no way resembled the glorious dish Evvi always orders at Ajanta. I ordered the chicken tikka masala & have to concede that J was absolutely right about its degree of suckage.

I am consoled by the delightful and gorgeous cookie one of J's employees baked. She took a whole platter in & they were all just lovely. Santa hat sugar cookies, that sort of thing. She thinks this one I adored is a recipe from Gourmet and promises to get it for me. They were thin chocolate stars, drizzled with chocolate and sprinkled with crushed candy cane. Wonderful!

Now, I am off to do my own baking & candy-making. Chocolate rum balls & cut-outs for certain. Fudge, I imagine, as well. Caramels. Cheese crisps. Who knows what else. Maybe some cashew brittle for my Beloved.

Food For Tree-Trimming

I reluctantly agreed to an artificial tree this year, primarily because of the postage stamp size of our apartment. I put it up & decorated the apartment during the day, then we had special foods for our tree-trimming dinner. I made a pot of potato leek soup & we did a few appetizers, as well. Boot requested his special invention, El Booto, which is basically just taco meat with shredded cheese thrown in, eaten with Fritos. J heated some mini smokies in Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce. I made my artichoke dip. Boot also requested Westminster Punch, which is the punch our church used to serve at coffee hour but now only serves for concert receptions. It has also become our special family punch.

Westminster Punch
12 oz. frozen lemonade concentrate
12 oz. frozen limeade concentrate
1 regular-size can pineapple juice
1 small carton sweetened frozen strawberries
2 liters ginger ale
Mix together the first 4 in a large punch bowl. Add the ginger ale right before serving. I think Boot would drink the entire punch bowl-ful if we allowed him to. I love it, too.

Potato Leek Soup
2 tbsp. butter
3 leeks, well-washed & thinly-sliced (white & pale green parts only)
2 1/4 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled & cubed
4 cans low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 sprigs of thyme (although I just tossed in some dried thyme because the store didn't have any fresh)
2/3 c. whipping cream

Melt butter in soup pot. Add leeks & cook until tender. Add everything else but the cream. Bring to a boil. Simmer 20 minutes. If using thyme sprigs, discard. Partially mash potatoes manually. Add cream and heat through, taking care not to boil.

I also took some Italian bread, sliced & toasted it, added shredded cheddar & a smidge of cayenne, broiled the whole shebang & served it with the soup.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

Tried another local Chinese restaurant tonight and was sadly disappointed. I still haven't found my China Cottage North. China Cottage (the one on Far Hills) in Centerville, Ohio is one of my favorite ones in that area. We've been to two up here and have not found one to measure up...we certainly haven't found any of the caliber of the ones on Spadina in Toronto that I used to go to back in the 80s. Asian Wok on Detroit Road is better than Mandarin in Avon Commons, but not by much. Tonight, we ate at Mandarin. Damn, I wish we had some leftover brisket & latkes!

On a more positive note, our first coffee hour at the new church went well. We served tortilla chips with J's plant's queso dip and bread with both hot artichoke dip and brunoise (the latter also from the plant). The other lesbian couple at church provided the cookies & there was also a cake. The artichoke dip is the one I have been making for our tree-trimming hors d-oeuvre dinner for years. Warning-I know of at least two people who have eaten themselves sick on it. It is hard to stop. I happen to like it with Triscuits, but any kind of cracker or bread is fine.

Hot Artichoke Dip
1 (14 oz.) can artichoke hearts, drained & chopped (make sure you discard all the gnarly bits)
1 c. grated parmesan
1 c. mayonnaise
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix all ingredients & bake in loaf pan or small casserole for 25 minutes or until starting to brown on top & get bubbly.

A Hanukkah Feast

Even though we are not Jewish, I have been celebrating Hanukkah since I was a teenager when my mom & I decided it sounded like fun. I have added it to my blended family's traditions. We play with dreidels for chocolate gelt, exchange gifts (always books or non-electronic games), tell the Hanukkah story (and read Eric Kimmel's Herschel & the Hanukkah Goblins), light the candles of the hanukkiyah (reciting the traditional blessings in Hebrew and English) and eat delicious food. Friday night, Pie and I were on our own for the evening. We celebrated the first night with Manischewitz matzo ball soup and jelly doughnuts. Last night was our big celebratory dinner. I made brisket, latkes, applesauce and glazed carrots.

2 and 1/2 pounds beef brisket
Salt & pepper
2 c. beef stock
1 c. dry red wine
1 sliced onion
2 cloves garlic, slivered
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Trim excess fat from brisket until only a fine, thin layer is left. Put in 13 x 9 baking dish, fat side up. Salt & pepper. Add stock, wine, onion & garlic. Cover tightly with foil & bake at 250 4-5 hours, adding more liquid if needed. Let stand 5-10 minutes before slicing.

7 medium potatoes
1 small onion
2 eggs
1/4 c. flour
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
Oil for frying
Peel & grate potatoes. Grate onion. Beat eggs with onion. Add flour, salt & pepper. Squeeze potatoes dry. Add to egg mixture. Heat oil in a 12" skillet. Form thin patties from the potatoes & fry until golden on each side. Drain on a paper towel lined plate. Serve hot with sour cream.

2 1/2 lb. apples (I like to use MacIntosh), peeled, cored & diced
7 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. lemon juice
4 tbsp. water
Put all ingredients in pot and bring to a boil. Cover & simmer 20 minutes.

Glazed Carrots
1 lb. carrots, peeled and cut into 2" long pieces
1/2 tsp. salt, divided
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. brown sugar
A grating of fresh nutmeg
Put carrots in pan with water to cover and 1/4 tsp. salt. Bring to boil. Simmer 1/2 hour. Drain. Stir in the rest of the salt, butter, brown sugar and nutmeg. Cook on low until well-glazed.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Holiday Goodies to Give Away

I've started to do a little bit of baking & candy-making for the holidays. Now that the semester has ended, I'll be able to really throw myself into it this week. Last week, though, I made a couple of treats for other people. Every year since I was a very small girl, I have given my granddad peanut brittle for Christmas. Until this year, I had never made it myself, though. I had heard it was touchy and was nervous to try it. As it turned out, it gave me no problems whatsoever and it was delicious! I think making my first attempt in the cold, drier months was a factor.

Peanut Brittle
2 c. sugar
A pinch of baking soda
1 c. peanuts

Get a saucepan nice & hot. Add the sugar & cook, stirring constantly, until it turns into syrup. When sugar has all become syrup and no lumps remain, add the baking soda and nuts. Pour onto a greased cookie sheet and allow to cool. When it is completely cool, break into pieces. I am certain that this would be delightful with other nuts, as well.

The other treat I made last week was for my Thursday class. Since I am part Swedish, I like to celebrate the feast day of St. Lucia, the patron saint of Sweden, which is December 13. So, Wednesday night found me infusing water with saffron, kneading dough and having a grand old time baking for my classmates. I made these traditional buns...and couldn't resist munching on a steaming hot one just from the oven before I fell into bed at 1:30. Since I am not a baker & my professor is an avid bread baker, I was a little nervous about making these for her. She ate 2, though, and said they were really good. Whew!

It is traditional for the oldest daughter of Swedish families to wear a white gown with a red sash and a wreath of candles on her head as she takes these, or another coffee cake sort of treat, to family members in the morning. My grandmom said that when she was in college in the late 1930s, her hall advisor went around with a candle on St. Lucia's Day, waking students for a special breakfast.

Lucia Buns
1/2 tsp. saffron
3 tbsp. hot water
2 pkgs. active dry yeast
1/4 c. lukewarm water
1/4 c. + 1/4 tsp. sugar
1 c. scalded milk
1/3 c. butter
1 tsp. salt
1 egg
4 c. flour, sifted
1 1/2 c. candied or dried fruit or nuts (I used raisins, sultanas and dried cranberries this time)
2 tbsp. melted butter

Soak saffron in 3 tbsp. hot water 1 1/2 hours. Dissolve yeast & 1/4 tsp. sugar in lukewarm water. Mix milk with rest of sugar, butter and salt. Let cool completely. Add egg, milk and saffron to yeast. Beat smooth. Mix fruit/nuts with 2 tsp. flour. Mix rest of flour with yeast mixture. Fold in fruit/nuts. Knead smooth, about 12 minutes, on a floured surface. Put into greased bowl, turn once and allow to rise, in a warm place, until doubled in size, about an hour. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Knead twice. Divide into 24 small buns & place on greased baking sheets. Let rise until doubled in size, about 1/2 hour. Bake 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees. Bake 10 minutes. Brush with melted butter. Bake 5 minutes.