Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving thanks

I received this from a feisty, continuous, handsome, elegant friend who now lives a hemisphere away, and had to share it with y'all. With thanks to her and all the friends and chosen family so dear to me. You are always at the table of my heart.


Let us give thanks for a bounty of people
For children who are our second planting
and though they grow like weeds
and the wind too soon blows them away,
May they forgive us our cultivation
and remember fondly where their roots are.

Let us give thanks:
For generous friends, with hearts as big as hubbards
and smiles as bright as their blossoms;
For feisty friends as tart as apples;
For continuous friends, who, like scallions and cucumbers,
keep reminding us we've had them;
For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb
and as indestructible;
For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants
and as elegant as a row of corn,
and the others, as plain as potatoes and so good for you;
For funny friends, who are as silly as Brussels sprouts
and as amusing as Jerusalem artichokes,
and serious friends, as complex as cauliflowers
and as intricate as onions;
For friends as unpretentious as cabbages,
as subtle as summer squash,
as persistent as parsley,
as delightful as dill,
as endless as zucchini,
and who, like parsnips,
can be counted on to see you throughout the winter;
For old friends,
nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time
and young friends coming on as fast as radishes;
For loving friends, who wind around us like tendrils
and hold us, despite our blights, wilts, and witherings;
And finally, for those friends now gone,
like gardens past that have been harvested,
but who fed us in their times
that we might have life thereafter;
For all these we give thanks.

-- Poem /prayer by MAX COOTS

Blessed Be!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Yukons and Yams

Yesterday turned out to be a no-cooking day. As I was getting ready to scrub the Yukon gold potatoes and the yams the garbage disposal fell off the sink. While running, and it kept running, giving the kitchen, the floor and the under sink cabinet contents a good rinsing, or flooding. Which means instead of slow roasting yams and boiling potato pieces the day went to mopping up, cleaning out under the sink, calling handy friends for help. Hopefully later this afternoon a good friend will have the disposal reattached, or replaced, and holiday cooking can move forward. Trying to be thankful it didn't happen Thanksgiving morning...and that not all my handy buddies are hunters off on a mountain somewhere.

Now we'll resume our regularly scheduled programming:

Yukons and Yams

You know how some leftovers taste better than they did during the meal? More flavorful, rich and enticing? That is one of the key reasons I like to prepare most of the side dishes and desserts a couple days before a feast. It gives the flavors time to meld, deepening the tastes, becoming leftover rich for the big meal.

Yukon gold potatoes are my favorite with their thin skins that don't require peeling and a buttery taste. While hosting a function at a hotel the chef made me yukons mashed with kosher salt and olive oil. They smelled divine, so golden yellow I was certain they'd been soaked with butter. I was blissfully wrong, slowly eating each bite and sorely tempted to lick the plate clean. That chef gave me back mashed potatoes. Even now I hesitate to put gravy on them, it distracts from their buttery simplicity.

Buy 6-8 oz of potatoes per person you're serving. If your crew consists of big eaters or carb fiends, bump that up to 12 oz. It will mean having a few leftovers, maybe.

The beauty of preparing potatoes, either kind, is there are no measurements after weighing them for purchase. Everything is by taste, by desired consistency, and fluctuates every time based on the potatoes.

Scrub the potatoes then cut them into even sized chunks. Place them in a pot large enough all the potatoes only half fill it. Add enough water to barely cover them. Sprinkle with Kosher sea salt. Cover the pot and cook on medium-low, stirring occasionally. Cook until the potatoes are soft and the liquid is almost gone.

I mash mine in the pot with extra-virgin olive oil, and a bit more sea salt. When I want smoother whipped potatoes the Kitchenaid immersion blender is the tool of choice; chunkier potatoes call for the old fashioned hand-masher. If it seems like they aren't salty enough add a bit of granulated garlic. It will enhance the salt and flavor without over powering the rest of the flavors. White pepper will avoid little black flecks, but really if your guests are whining about flecks in their potatoes they need to be a someone else's table.

At this point the potatoes go into a storage container to cool. The day I serve them about an hour before dinner I'll put them back in a pot with a bit of coconut milk creamer to keep them from drying out. If they aren't seasoned to the point you want to keep eating them out of the pot, keep adding salt, garlic, or creamer, until you do. Then they're ready.

Preparing the yams/sweet potatoes isn't much different, buy them in the same quantities as the other potatoes, scrub them well. Roasting the yams in-skin starts caramelizing the sugars, reducing the amount of sweetener needed later. If there aren't any other dishes needing to be baked, preheat the oven to 400 and bake the potatoes for an hour, or more, until they are tender to the touch. No need to wrap them in foil or even put them in a pan, right on the rack works best.

If you're baking other things, no worries, any temp under 400 works, the yams will just take a bit longer to cook. If you're lucky enough to be feeding a big crew having an oven full of yams roasting makes for a warm, autumn and caramel redolent house.

Once they're done, use mitts or silicon pads to remove from the oven. When they are still warm/hot but cool enough to handle without burning yourself, slit them open and scrap out the 'meat' into a mixing bowl. Mine end up in the Kitchenaid mixer with the paddle attachment. No mixer? That old fashioned potato masher works great too, just more effort on your part, or step where kids can easily help.

Add a splash of orange juice, a bit of light brown sugar, and a splash of Grand Marnier liqueur. If the yams seem a bit dry I'll add a splash of extra-virgin olive oil. Agave syrup also works in place of the brown sugar.

Just like the potatoes, store in a container and reheat in a pot with a bit more OJ and Grand Marnier.

These will be sweet, fragrant, yet nothing like the canned candied yams covered in sugar and marshmallows. If there are any leftovers a sweet potato pudding makes a wonderful hot breakfast or snack.

More later about cranberry relishes, right now it is time to reassemble the kitchen sink with a working disposal.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Biscuits and Herbed Margarine

In 2001 a coworker introduced me to a fabulous cookbook: How it All Vegan. By then I'd figured out my dairy allergy, which made vegan recipes very desirable. I could be absolutely certain there wouldn't be even a hint of dairy in a vegan dish. Since I didn't have my own kitchen at that time someone else having already figured out how to make the substitute taste good, hopefully, was imperative.

After having a piece of pie made from the book I bought a copy. Such decadent, amazing pie, there had to be more amazing-ness in there. The next dish I tried were these biscuits, just as delicious and as the name promised, easy. Flaky, fluffy, and dare I say "buttery?" I ate biscuits for a week: plain, slathered in jam, with safflower butter, with gravy from the vegan restaurant around the corner from my office, with cold cuts, rice cheese and mustard. These will absolutely have your guests shocked when they take a bite. Add the margarine and cranberry relish and prepare to sigh with a mouthful of bliss.

I also like that the most of the recipes in 'How it All Vegan' make small batches. If you need more than six biscuits, double or triple the quantities. Do roll them out, the small bit of extra effort is worth it when you easily split one of them open and catch a glimpse of the fragrant steam escaping from the layers.

For the upcoming holiday feast make the biscuits while the bird roasts. With the margarine make it anytime between now and the day before. It is step & time intensive, definitely not a 'day-of' recipe. I'll be making a half batch of it later today. Who knows, I may make a batch of biscuits to taste-test the margarine on!

Easy Biscuits
adapted from "How it All Vegan" by Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer

2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour (I prefer Pamela's)
3 tsp baking powder (Hain is the only one I've found that is gluten-corn-dairy-free)
1 tsp sea salt (Penzey's Kosher-style is currently in my cupboard)
1/4 cup shortening or margarine (palm shortening is free of everything but palm)
1 cup plain So Delicious coconut milk, soured with 1 tsp white vinegar

Preheat the oven to 425 (450 if the oven isn't convection)
Sift together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Cut in the shortening.
Add 3/4 cup of the soured milk. blend until just mixed, adding the other 1/4 cup of milk if the batter is too dry (most likely here in the arid West).
Gently roll out on a floured board, cut with floured biscuit or cookie cutter.

Bake on a parchment lined cookie sheet for 12-18 minutes until lightly golden.
Try not to burn your fingers eating them fresh from the oven...not that I've ever managed to wait long enough to not burn mine.

The herbed margarine recipe I'll be trying for the first time is from the Washington Post:

Depending on how it turns out I plan on making a batch of biscuits with the margarine instead of palm shortening.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Getting Ready...the menu

With the most food-centric holiday just around the corner many emails, conversations, texts with friends are following suit: food-centric. For me it is also the most difficult holiday of all. Imagine the traditional feast without a butter-basted turkey, creamy mashed potatoes, bread-based stuffing, cream-based pies, rolls, corn, and more. Too many Thanksgiving meals ended with an allergic reaction or ravenous from not being able to eat anything at the table, topped off with a dollop of frustration from being exhorted to "just have a bite" of something allergen laden.

While Thanksgiving isn't a Wiccan/Pagan holiday the traditions are similar: gathering together friends, chosen family, and family to celebrate blessings with good food and drink. Before my food allergies it was my favorite holiday for the same reasons - feasting, blessings and friends - starting the holiday season together.

Tonight while listening to the Avalanche hockey game, I contemplated this year's menu, and roasted sweet spiced pecans in one oven, and balsamic glazed root vegetables in another oven. Pleased with the score, the scents radiating through the house, and the coalescent menu.

I prefer a generally regional menu that allows me to spend most of the day visiting with my guests, or given the vagaries of Colorado weather, out enjoying the day. Just enough leftovers to divvy up between guests, not a fridge full. Add in only having a couple hours of productive energy each day and a feast menu takes a bit of tactical planning.

Each day I'll post a recipe or two for the menu, why I chose each dish, and when to prepare it for maximum flavor, so you can pick and chose between dishes for your own feast. If the holiday is an intimate celebration for 2-4 people some dishes get deleted from the feast. More guests get added last minute, so do more dishes.

The Menu

Spinach salad with pomegranate and pine nuts
Roast pheasant with pan dripping gravy
Grand Marnier whipped sweet potatoes
Smashed Yukon Gold potatoes
Emperor purple rice
Sour milk biscuits
Herbed margarine
Cranberry relish
Pumpkin brulée
Bourbon chocolate pecan pie with bourbon whipped cream

Time to see how the pecans turned out...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Banana Bread

This weekend treat yourself to an indulgent treat, French Toast made with banana bread or a sandwich made with banana bread, peanut butter, honey and sliced bananas. As a bonus the house will smell divine for hours beyond the bake time.

Banana Bread

Adapted from Fannie Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham

Two 8x4 loaves

2 ½ c flour

1 tsp salt

2 tsp baking soda

1 c shortening

2 c sugar (brown will make this bread very dark, moist & even sweeter)

6 ripe bananas (over ripe even better)

4 eggs

1 c walnuts (optional – omit for Jenna!)

Preheat oven to 350

Put bananas, shortening, eggs, and sugar in food processor. Blend until smooth.

Add flour, salt, baking soda and walnuts. Blend until smooth.

Divide between two pans lined with parchment paper.

Bake for 70 minutes or more until toothpick comes out clean. Loaves will be a dark brown. Impatient?Use small loaf pans and make more loaves - shorter baking times, closer to instant gratification.

Cool in pan for 5 minutes then place parchment lined loaves on cooling rack.

Excellent to make banana bread French toast with or banana bread pudding. In Texas I saw sandwiches made with peanut butter & honey. Bacon slices optional.

French Toast

Dip slices in egg batter, cook on teflon grill, enjoy with or without maple syrup.

Banana bread pudding will happen closer to Yule.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tricky Treats

A Tricky Treat…

My Halloween surprise came as the culmination of an odd combination. Usually I spend Samhain (Sa-wane) evening quietly honoring the people and companion critters in my life who have died. Given the visions of Dutch process cocoa clamoring in my waking and sleeping mind, for days leading up to all Hollow’s, apparently this year my offering would be brownies; dense, dark to the brink of black, moist brownies.

Receiving an email with the latest issue “Living Without” magazine recipe for gluten free brownies and a pending visit from a dieting girlfriend instigated these cocoa visions. We usually talk until 2am over a baked good and tea or wine. The recipe yields a mild, cake-textured brownie that is more similar to a German chocolate cake than my definition of brownie. Nice, and good enough to share but not a brownie.

Said girlfriend took that batch home. Another took a second batch, the product of melding my decades-old standard brownie recipe and the ‘Living Without” concept. So mine are inspired by “Living Without” they are a completely different recipe with double the cocoa, vanilla, brown sugar, and no flour at all.

Making the third batch my Treat.

Being Halloween there must be a Trick to go with the Treat.

Black beans replace most of the fat, all of the flour and reduce the sugar by half. Yielding brownies that are low-fat, anti-oxidant rich, high in fiber, dare I say even, healthy? And still a true, rich, moist, decadent brownie.

The key to these brownies is the black beans need to be hot when pureeing them with the cocoa, so does the small amount of olive oil. The heat releases the cocoa flavonoids allowing it to blend better with the other ingredients prior to baking. The steam wafting up from the food processor will make it all clear…

Also because of the beans this recipe is most easily measured in volume. Two cups of cooked beans actually weighs 10.125 oz, which is a 15oz can of beans drained, plus a third of another can.

Black Bean Brownies

2 cups hot, cooked black (turtle) beans, drained

5 tbsp olive oil, warm as well

1 cup Penzey’s Dutch cocoa, or other high-grade Dutch cocoa

4 tsp vanilla

1 cup light brown sugar

1 tsp kosher sea salt

1 tsp xanthan gum

1 tsp baking powder

3 eggs

¼ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line a 6x8 baking pan with parchment. Don’t have a 6x8 pan? Double the recipe and bake in a 9x13.

Place the beans, cocoa, oil, and vanilla in food processor. Blend to a paste.

Add in sugar, salt, baking powder, and xanthan gum. Pulse until blended. Scrape down the bowl, especially the bottom edge – cocoa will try to cling there and not incorporate.

Pulse in eggs until barely blended, the dough with be very glossy and stiff. Spatula into pan. Sprinkle with semi-sweet chips.

Bake for 25 minutes.

Cool for ten minutes, devour at will.