And in this corner….

December 6, 2008

We have a tradition that some may think is a little dorky. But since I embrace my inner dork, I am happy to share the fruits of this laborious tradition with you. This tradition was born out of boredom, my love for my sister, and my sister’s love for the holidays. You see, December is Cindy’s favorite time if the year. She embraces all things Christmas then holds onto them in her viselike grip until mid January.

I enjoy this time with my sister because it is impossible not to love the holidays when you are around her. Sure, watching the Grinch 47 times can get old and of course, one year we had to throw a Halloween party just so she wouldn’t put up the Christmas tree in October, but her love for the holidays is contiguous and I love every minute of it.

So this contest, the Gingerbread-Off, was thought of one night after dinner when boredom was setting in and Cindy had picked up the Grinch to watch again, my instincts kicked in and as I desperately searched for another holiday avenue to pacify Cindy’s needs the Gingerbread-Off came into existence.  By the end of the night, we had a gingerbread Mack truck and a realization that the rules next year would have to include no hot glue.

Today, the tradition continues. This year, there were two teams, Alex and I  and Cindy and Wendy, each fought a great battle and each brought something unique to the table. Cindy and Wendy are putting up a train and station for consideration and it seems that a penguin community has taken it over. Alex and I have made a gingerbread scene called Santa’s Summer Home. Santa is taking the day off and his elves are doing the dirty work; trimming the hedges and mowing the lawn.

Train and Station

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gingerbread-off-049ab

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Santa’s Summer Home

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Details about the contest:gingerbread-off-033ab

We used regular in the grocery store tube gingerbread and added some flour to the mix. The royal icing consisted of powdered sugar, meringue powder and water. The characters are made out of different colors of fondant, which you can find at your local craft store. To paint the white fondant, gel food coloring was mixed with a small amount of vodka and paint as normal. The alcohol dries and the color is left behind. Shrubs were made from rice krispe treats with green gel color mixed into the marshmallow. If you have any other questions about how anything was done, send me a email at thecynicalchef@yahoo.com. Happy Holidays!!!

I have a feeling that my husband must have had a traumatic experience with vegetables in a past life. Perhaps he was a little green frog, who suffered from a chaotic relationship with a pig and spent his days singing about how it is not easy being green while canoeing down the bayou. Or maybe he roamed the hillside as the Jolly Green Giant and the years of ridicule that stemmed from living life as the color of grass has kept Alex from embracing vegetables in this life.

Nevertheless, I am forced to convince the vegetables to masquerade as other things in hopes some might stumble in Alex’s mouth. I find this method works best with meat and cheese. For some reason, if the onions, spinach, green beans, sugar snap peas, or whatever else is in the dish is wrapped in the cheesy or meaty exterior, the chance that it will actually be consumed rises exponentially.

Tonight’s dish is a great one for this. Alex is put on sensory overload by the ground beef, parmesan cheese, and garlic toast that he fulfils the vegetable segment of the food pyramid without noticing and better yet, not caring. Try it on your loved ones today I promise that no matter what vegetable tragedies they have experienced, they will love it.

Pasta Fagioli
Adapted from Brown Eyed Bakerpasta-fagioli-014ab

2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 package sweet Italian sausage, casings removed (I used a 1 ½ lbs of ground beef)
½ large (or 1 medium) onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 carrots, thinly sliced
4 stalks celery, thinly sliced
28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can white cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
64 oz. beef broth
28 oz. can tomato sauce (I used 42.5 (3 small cans) of tomato sauce)
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
4 oz. small dry pasta (I used ditalini) (I par cooked the pasta before adding it)

Few dashes of Tabasco sauce

1. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large stockpot over medium high heat, and brown the sausage, crumbling it as it cooks. Once brown, remove sausage from pot with a slotted spoon and discard any grease that remains in the pot.

2. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in the same pot, and add the onion, garlic, carrot, and celery, and saute over medium heat until vegetables are soft, about 8 minutes. Add sausage back to the pot, add the can of diced tomatoes (do not drain), stir briefly, and simmer for 10 minutes.

3. Stir in the beans, and add the beef broth and tomato sauce. Add in all of the seasonings, stir well, turn the heat to high and bring the soup to a boil. Once it boils, turn down to low heat, cover, and simmer for at least 30 minutes.

4. Add the dry pasta and continue to simmer on low for another 30 minutes. Serve with your favorite bread or crackers.

Garlic Toast- Recipe by mepasta-fagioli-025ab

A loaf of your favorite bread; I used French Bread

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Garlic- Cut in half

1.      Cut the bread lengthwise.

2.      Sprinkle the olive oil over the bread. I usually put my finger over the spout and pour on the bread maybe 1-2 tbs on each half.

3.      Place under the broiler.

4.      Cook until toasted not burnt. Usually 3-4 minutes

5.      The minute it comes out of the oven rub the bread with the exposed side of the garlic bread. The warmth of the bread will cause the garlic flavor to adhere to the bread.

6.      Enjoy the garlicky goodness.

I am not sure where the requirement to have something green on your plate came from. I am sure it was born out of the minds of June Cleaver and Mrs. Brady. I know I do not have to adhere to this archaic rule but when writing the Thanksgiving menu, there was a nagging thought in my head. “You don’t have anything greeeeen” the sing songy voice mocked. Fine, I gave into Mrs. Cleaver and put creamed spinach on the menu. I had something green alright but it was bathing in a sauce of creamy goodness and topped with crispy shallots. Not your mother’s idea of fulfilling the healthy requirement but so good.

Creamed Spinach

Recipe courtesy of my tv boyfriend Tyler Florence. Tyler if you are reading you are on my 5 people list. Wink wink.misc-012a

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds spinach
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, lightly smashed
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Wash the spinach in several changes of water to get rid of any grit. Drain the spinach but keep some of the water clinging to the leaves. Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the spinach and garlic. Cook, turning frequently, until the spinach has wilted down evenly. Remove the garlic and put the spinach into a colander and let it drain well. Press out as much liquid as you can from the leaves and chop them coarsely.

Heat the skillet again over medium-high heat and add the cream and nutmeg; cook until it reduces a bit, about 5 minutes. Add the spinach and parmesan and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the spinach is hot, about 5 more minutes. Serve immediately.

Crispy Shallots

  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 2 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

To prepare the shallots: Fill a deep saucepan with about 2 inches of vegetable oil. Heat over medium heat until a deep-fat thermometer reads 360 degrees. (Alternatively, use an electric deep-fat fryer). Toss the shallots with the flour in a large bowl, to coat. Transfer to a strainer and shake to remove the excess flour. Add the shallots to the hot oil and cook until golden

A testament to my love

December 1, 2008

There are some recipes I make that are a testament to my love for my husband. (See post on peanut butter) This corn soufflé recipe is one of those. The recipe has been in Alex’s family for quite some time. The problem is it uses creamed corn. I have many issues but one of my cooking related ones is texture. In my opinion, creamed corn has a horrible texture and looks like what pigs throw up.  If any of the evil corn gets on my hands, I will behave like the girl from Willy Wonka, that wants the golden egg, and throw the biggest tantrum in the world.  But, I will continue to make this dish year after year and continue to get creamed corn splatter on my hands every year. Why you ask? I am a sucker for my husband. That man has got my number.

And now that I have made this dish oh so enticing, I will provide the recipe. I promise it is much better than the ingredients give it hope to be. Everyone that eats it loves it. I have yet to try it. Here’s hoping for next year.

Corn Soufflécorn-souffle-021a

Recipe courtesy of Alex’s Mama. Slight variations can be found all over that internet thing

1 stick of butter melted

8oz Sour Cream

1 14.5 can of regular corn drained

1 14.5 can of the evil corn (creamed corn)

1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix

1. Preheat the oven to 350.

2. Mix all the ingredients.

3. Pour into an 8×8 pan. I used a loaf pan. I like it better that way.

4. Cook for 60 minutes or until golden brown or a knife comes out clean.

5. Forget the fact there is creamed corn in it and enjoy!corn-souffle-024a1

I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday. Over the next few days, I will be posting the recipes from our Thanksgiving celebration. You will have to forgive me so getting in on the game so late. You see I just came out of the Holiday coma. Well, I actually came out this morning when I woke up and it was Monday. It felt like someone threw ice cold water on my sleeping body when the alarm went off, but I digress. We can mourn the loss of my weekend some other time.

We will start with the main event, the big show, the ringmaster, insert another big top reference here: the Turkey. One of our holiday traditions is the naming of the bird. I am not sure why we do this. It is kind of mocking when you think about it; providing a final label to the tasty morsel that will grace your table. But, we are morbid so life continues.

This year the turkey had two names. My sister, the food sprayer, ditched her usual vote of Tom (which is completely unoriginal and wrought with Freudian undertones since that is my father’s name) for Juggs. She then giggled with glee and slapped his wrapper bottom. Disturbed, I tell you. My husband when asked choose the more direct approach and dubbed this new family member TFT, which stood for Tasty “Expletive starting with an F” Turkey.

So without further ado, I give your Juggs the Tasty “Expletive starting with an F” Turkey

He was brined and juicy. He was fabulous. And his glorious 19 pound body cooked in an hour and 30 minutes, which left our over timer dumbfounded. It was a great day.

Good Eats Turkey

From my personal Yoda: Alton Brownmisc-027

Ingredients

  • 1 (14 to 16 pound) frozen young turkey

For the brine:

  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 gallon vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped candied ginger
  • 1 gallon heavily iced water

For the aromatics:

  • 1 red apple, sliced
  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 6 leaves sage
  • Canola oil

2 to 3 days before roasting:

Directions

Begin thawing the turkey in the refrigerator or in a cooler kept at 38 degrees F.

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Spike trying to get in on the action

Combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate.

Early on the day or the night before you’d like to eat:

Combine the brine, water and ice in the 5-gallon bucket. Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine.

Place the bird on roasting rack inside a half sheet pan and pat dry with paper towels.

Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add steeped aromatics to the turkey’s cavity along with the rosemary and sage. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil.

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The bathtub where Juggs lived. We put towels around the base and ice in the towel well.

Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 151 degrees F. A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting. Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil or a large mixing bowl for 15 minutes before carving.