A weakness

TJ_joejoes

I have one, for things containing peppermint and dark chocolate.

Last year, this particular vice was displayed by my observable penchant for Peppermint Bark from Trader Joe’s. As always, it started with a well-placed sale display: half off! the handwritten poster exclaimed. Well, then, if you’re gonna put it that way, I’ll bite.

This weekend, it was easy to pass up the bark, since it was not yet on sale, and I am cheap frugal above all.  I almost made it out of the store. There with my sister-in-law, we were making our final passes along the aisles when we came upon the “New to Store” display. She asked me if she could get us a treat, their having been houseguests for a mere 36 hours. I quickly scanned the items while voicing my honest protest to her offer, when she honed in on a box of Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe-Joe’s.  “What the heck is a Joe-Joe?” was my question. “It’s their version of an Oreo,” was her answer.

Oh.

Instant flashback: it’s the 80’s, and while never a fan of Twinkies, Dolly Madisons, or grocery store doughnuts, I honestly love a chocolate-covered Oreo, and think it might be one of the greatest junk-food-inventions, ever. Flash-forward: it’s February of ’09, and I am savoring every last crumb of my Peppermint bark, wondering how I will make it the span of months before that precious seasonal item is available to me, on sale, again. Flash-to-present: this might be a marriage made in heaven.

“Sure, I’ll take a box.”

I pride myself on will-power when it comes to store-bought sweets — they usually don’t appeal to me like their homemade counterparts; but these little devils have me by the scruff, and can feed me my what is left of said-will on a peppermint-crumbed plate.

Which simply means that, my next trip to Trader Joe’s, when it comes to seasonal confections, my assets are hereby frozen.

A warm drink to leave you with (Happy Thanksgiving!)

spiced_cider

We are headed to Cincinnati for Thanksgiving, where I will not be cooking a turkey, but will be providing the infamous sweet potato casserole (I’m making this one, from Cook’s Illustrated, which I made two years ago and thought it fantastic). The sweet potatoes have been roasted and skinned, I just need to put it all together and drive it to my mother-in-law’s refrigerator before it bakes off on Thursday.

So, it’s Thanksgiving. Which means most Americans are about to descend or be descended upon to partake of poultry, pumpkin, and potatoes in various forms. Isn’t it odd, our traditional holiday menu? Is this Thursday the only day of the year where you can have a 75% chance of correctly guessing what most Americans will be eating? And is there another day of the year when previously-stated Americans ever eat turkey (outside of on a sandwich)?

I admit to some relief at not being responsible for this year’s dinner. Though I did get a tiny bit jealous, earlier today, when my friend Kim was talking about her brine. And wondering how to remove the turkey neck from her heritage bird (just the kind of kitchen challenge I oddly covet). How fun is it, that she gets to google “how to remove neck from turkey.” Maybe, if I googled it, I would no longer be jealous.

Wishing all a happy Thanksgiving, I wanted to share a recipe for spiced cider. I’ve been drinking a hot cup of this almost every afternoon for a month — starting way back at my daughter’s late-October birthday party. I buy my apple cider by the gallon, from a local orchard who sells at our farmer’s market (it’s Wild’s Orchard, for anyone in Indianapolis, and they sell at the Winter Farmer’s Market). It’s unpasteurized, and some of the best cider I’ve ever had (good cider will make all the difference in this recipe). Five bucks will get you the gallon, and then you just need an orange, some ginger, and spices you probably already have on hand. I simmer a half-gallon at a time, and then put it in two quart-sized mason jars in the refrigerator. Around 4 o’clock each afternoon, I heat a mug-full for my afternoon treat.

This recipe is adapted from one in Everyday Food, from a fall issue about 4-5 years ago. The original recipe called for more orange and ginger, but I haven’t found it all necessary. This way, one orange will get your whole gallon spiced.

Spiced Cider (adapted from Everyday Food, October 2004)

  • 8 cups (half-gallon) apple cider
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 1/2 orange, thinly-sliced
  • 1 piece (2″) fresh ginger, scrubbed and thinly sliced)

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan, and bring to a boil. Cover, and remove from heat. Let steep for half an hour, then pour through a strainer into cups or 2 quart-sized jars. Enjoy immediately, or refrigerate and reheat later.

Do this, three times.

My friend Scott sent me a video last week. It was Jaques Pepin, de-boning a chicken. Scott confessed to a man-crush, after watching this video, and although not a man, I can completely understand why. I couldn’t find a linkable version of what he sent, but here is a similar clip of him with Julia Child, removing the bones from both a chicken and a turkey:

Tell me this isn’t sexy.

Coincidentally, I was just reading about making a turducken: a chicken stuffed into a duck stuffed into a turkey, with all three of those boneless birds having their own unique stuffing. It sounds to me like a tiny bit of overkill, and so far I’ve not seen any photographs that convince me otherwise. I would wonder whether those who make them have martyr complexes or something to prove, but usually when you read accounts, people swear they are worth the effort.

But what else can you say, when you just spent an entire weekend boning three birds, making three unique stuffings, putting it all back together like a Russian nesting doll and roasting it for 8 hours? I believe I’d say it was worth it too, just to avoid crying myself to sleep that overstuffed night.

Anyway. Back to Jacques. If I could show you the original video, you would see him remove the bones of a chicken, and then stuff it with spinach and mushrooms for a ballotine. He makes it look so easy. How many years, and how many chickens, would it take me to be able to do that?

Sigh. I’m going to have to try this. Time to get out the knife sharpener, and prepare my family for the probable barrage of expletives.

In support of the pumpkin ice cream… (Ginger Cookie recipe)

pumpkin_ice_cream_ginger_cookie

“Hey, Dad. You know what the best part about eating these cookies with the ice cream? It’s all the crumbs, that get in the bottom of the cup, and mix with the melting ice cream.”

Yes, daughter of mine. Right you are.

I promised that, if it was good, I’d pass on the details. You can assume that since you’re looking at a photo and reading about my 6-year old’s personal take on the experience, it indeed qualified as good. And, since I know you all made the pumpkin ice cream already, you must be chomping at the bit for the ginger cookies, right?

This is a yearly cookie-making excursion for me. I can’t remember where I got the recipe — it might be a variation from a Martha Stewart magazine. These are ginger-molasses cookies; soft and chewy if you make them huge and don’t overbake them. I made smaller ones (as describe in my adaptation below), and baked them a little longer, so they’d get a little crunchier since I knew I was using them with ice cream (and the goal is the afore-mentioned crunchy crumbs). If you are looking for a ginger snap, this isn’t your cookie. By the same token, these aren’t deep-brown molasses cookies, either. Somewhere in between, with a zippy kick from the addition of ground black pepper (yeah, baby!).

This recipe makes two dozen good-sized cookies; perfect for freezing half your dough for later use (something I love doing during the holidays to save time). Of course, you could always bake them all, and see how long they can last on your counter (I’m placing my bet on empty containers over stale cookies).

Ginger Cookies (adapted from Martha Stewart? maybe?)
makes about 24 4″ cookies

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp ground ginger (yes, that much! — make sure it’s still fresh)
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar (plus more for topping)
  • 6 Tbsp molasses
  • 1 egg

Preheat oven to 350º.

Whisk dry ingredients (flour through black pepper) together in a large bowl. Using a stand or hand mixer, cream butter with both sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in molasses and eggs. Gradually add dry ingredients until just mixed.

Divide dough into two balls, then flatten each into a disk. Wrap with plastic wrap (at this point you can freeze one or both halves for future use).

If baking immediately, freeze the dough for 20 minutes, or refrigerate overnight before baking. Divide a disk into 12 1-inch pieces. Dip balls into sugar (I use turbinado sugar, for large crystals), and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Flatten balls slightly with palms of hand, and sprinkle a little more sugar on top.

Bake 12-15 minutes. They should flatten out a good bit, and crack on top — it’s hard to tell if they are overbaking since they are already brown, so watch them carefully. Cool on racks.


Speaking of Bourdain…

After reminding myself in Monday’s post about following Anthony Bourdain on Twitter (I actually follow @NoReservations, named for his show on The Travel Channel), I read a few of his latest. There was a link to an article about one of his public appearances, in the UK. It included a few quotes of his; I heard him, a year or so ago, open an old-fashioned Can O’ Whoopass (as we say in the South) on Sandra Lee (of Food Network’s Semi-Homemade) on a public radio broadcast of the Commonwealth Club — and here he does it again:

“This frightening Hell Spawn of Kathie Lee and Betty Crocker seems on a mission to kill her fans, one meal at a time. … This is simply irresponsible programming. Its only possible use might be as a psychological warfare strategy against the resurgent Taliban — or dangerous insurgent groups. A large-racked blonde repeatedly urging Afghans and angry Iraqis to stuff themselves with fatty, processed American foods might be just the weapon we need to win the war on terror.”

This is why I love Bourdain. To say he doesn’t mince his words is more than a mild understatement — and he can totally get away with it, because he travels to remote areas of the world and eats or drinks whatever the locals cook up for him. Who can argue with that level of adventurousness? And while I don’t think I would phrase it quite as dramatically as he does (at least not in a public forum, since I haven’t yet eaten the pickled brains of various animals prepared by equatorial tribal people), I agree with him (sans-personal commentary) about this one. Sandra Lee seems like a very friendly person who had a hard time growing up and is now interested in helping low-income folk (or so I learned from a public service advertisement on FoodTV last year). But I see a disconnect between helping those people and emphasizing tablescapes on the level that puts decoration above serving real food.

But just when you think Bourdain couldn’t be a bigger crass, he whips out a gem of wisdom. Here is his quote about feeding his 3-year old:

“There’s no convincing your kids to like something they don’t want to like. If you’re a foodie or you’re trying to be all sophisticated about what your kids eat, it’s not going to work. What it comes down is your kids are going to choose what they see you eating.” *

I really hope this is true — it paints a brighter future for my green-vegetable-deficient 3-year old. I admit it’s encouraging, though, to think that while my children might not know which side of the dinner plate the fork resides (I still rely on my husband for this information on the rare occasion our table is formally set), they might end up knowing how to make a loaf of bread from scratch, or maybe, in my pipe dream, enjoy a can of smoked sardines. On crackers with dijon mustard.

I’ll leave you, though, with Bourdain’s ultimate tweet, from yesterday:

Pro Tip: Eat bacon on everything

Words to live by.

Pumpkin Ice Cream: third time’s the charm

pumpkin_ice_cream

I am sometimes embarrassed to admit that I am “one of those pumpkin people.” I like it, this time of year, when everything becomes pumpkin-flavored (I winced a bit recently while reading an Anthony Bourdain tweet about people like me — as I’m sure you can imagine). In my defense, I think I am reasonable with the mild obsession: I am a sucker for a pumpkin latté (I tried and failed to make my own homemade version), and love my pumpkin bread. I will, however, pass on a slice of pumpkin cheesecake, since it looks too much like a piece of pumpkin pie and I get totally thrown-off by the cheesiness of the first bite — it’s just not right (see the restraint?).

Last year, I made my first go at pumpkin ice cream. You can read about my adventures here, but basically I wasn’t satisfied with the results. The first try tasted like cold, sweet, canned pumpkin. The second recipe was a French-style custard with all the spices, but was really just too rich, with a chalky aftertaste that I could only attribute to too much pumpkin. When I read David Lebovitz’s recent post about his new version, I decided that, after a year, the pain of failure had subsided enough to try again.

A quick read gave me hope from the beginning stages: his recipe used less pumpkin, and a mixture of whole milk and heavy cream (last year’s second version used all heavy cream). The spice list called for freshly-grated ginger and nutmeg, which is always a good sign. The only drawback was the overnight refrigeration of the spiced milk before adding the pumpkin and then churning away (a stabbing realization, when you’re expecting to chill over an ice bath and have soft-serve ice cream in about 45 minutes).

It just finished churning, and I am so happy with the results. Rich, creamy, smooth, and spicy. I think I finally managed to channel the good ice cream vibes from The Hop, and came close to a good cross-country, homemade version of their original.

If you’re interested, David’s recipe can be found here. I did use canned pumpkin (I had a frozen partial-can leftover from my adventures with the above-stated lattés). Per his suggestion, I whipped up some ginger cookie dough last night (I had to do something with all that pent-up energy after realizing I wasn’t going to be eating a late-night snack of pumpkin ice cream) and plan to serve them together. If it works, a ginger cookie post will follow.

Our new favorite pizza

pizza_brussels_sprouts

At our farmer’s market, two Saturdays ago, I gleefully purchased a few heads of broccoli and a stalk of brussels sprouts (yes, I wrote stalk, and no, I didn’t really know that’s how they grow). I was filled with said glee because I’ve never purchased these items locally before. I think I paid $7 for all of it — I’m guessing it was a heavy pound of each (a pound of actual sprouts, sans-stalk).

But here’s where my happy-morning-story takes a tragic turn: this was the Saturday of my son’s battle with the flu — and while that battle wasn’t actually that bad, and no one else in the family has fallen ill, it made for a week of logistical changes, keeping him at home (read: logistical changes require a donation of my brain cells). A secondary factor in the tragedy was that, with little space in my refrigerator, I decided the green goods could stay for a day or two in a bag in our unheated mudroom (it can act like a 40-sf extra refrigerator when the weather’s cold). I unfortunately discovered that plan doesn’t really work well when the weather turns unexpectedly warm, and you forget you put stuff out there.

I found my bag-o-green-vegetables, the next Saturday. The broccoli was a goner. Totally yellow, with a stinch. The brussels sprouts, at first glance, also looked like a casualty — but upon closer, desperate examination I saw that only the top portion of the stalk was effected. At least half the sprouts, with a little creative trimming, would be totally fine.

But I decided to use them THAT DAY, and we were supposed to have pizza for dinner.

And I tried my hardest to conceal what I was doing — I knew it would not go over well. My family loves our pizza, and is sometimes willing to experiment, but really would be happiest if we just ate sausage, pepperoni, and cheese every week. I read online about someone making pizza with brussels sprouts, by only using the leaves pulled apart, so that you didn’t have to chomp down on a huge chunk in the middle of your piece of pie. The same person recommended combining them with the smokey flavor of bacon. I was sold, and hoped others in the household would be as well.

I’m happy to report that at least one member of our house agreed that it was one of the best pizzas we’ve made (I’ll leave it to you to guess which member — my hint being that he and I had to fight over the last piece). The sweetness of the sprouts is a perfect balance for the smokey bacon, and the textures dance nicely together as well. So I pass it on, in hopes that you, too can embrace your brussels sprouts. Just try and do it before you forget about them.

Pizza with Bacon, Prosciutto, Caramelized Onions, and Brussels Sprouts

Cooking the vegetables takes a while, so you’ll want to start about an hour before you plan to eat (or cook everything ahead, and assemble just before dinner).

  • 3 slices bacon, sliced crosswise into 1/2-inch strips
  • about 2-3 oz (or more) prosciutto
  • one large onion, sliced thin
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme (or 2 tsp fresh)
  • 2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
  • olive oil
  • 5-7 brussels sprouts, fresh if available, with leaves pulled apart and washed
  • 4 oz (or more) mozzarella
  • tomato sauce of choice (see below for our recipe)
  • pizza crust (see this post for our recipe)

Heat a skillet over medium heat and add a couple teaspoons olive oil. Once shimmering, add onions, garlic, and dried thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until brown and caramelized (about 25 minutes). Season with salt and pepper, and remove to a plate (discard garlic cloves if desired).

Add bacon to now-empty skillet, and cook until crisp. Remove bacon pieces to a paper-towel-lined plate. If your pan has rendered more than a tablespoon or two of fat, pour a little off. Add brussels sprout leaves to pan, and cook over high heat until caramelized, about 4 minutes. Remove to a plate.

After par-baking your pizza dough (for about five minutes in a 450º oven), spread desired amount of tomato sauce on pizza. Layer on the onions, brussels sprouts, and bacon pieces. Then scatter on your cheese, and lay the prosciutto on top (it’s best when it gets crispy from direct heat, on top of the cheese). Top with a little black pepper, and return to the oven for another 8-10 minutes, until the crust is golden and the cheese is bubbly.

No-Cook Tomato Sauce for Pizza (adapted from The Cook’s Bible, by Christopher Kimball)
plenty to top one pizza

  • one can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in a food processor, and process until blended and smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning, and use immediately (or freeze for later use, but sauce will be more watery).