Post # 206 Another Festive Meal

December 27, 2013 at 5:57 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 206 Another Festive Meal

The holiday season is upon us all with a vengeance.  As cooks, our challenge is to come up with creative ways to share and repurpose (remember that word?) the multitude of leftovers from the main feast.  There’s a wonderful line from “A Christmas Story”, the one about the little boy who wants a BB gun for Christmas, at the end when the neighbor’s dogs have stolen the holiday turkey.  The narrator says, “No turkey dinner, no turkey a la king, no gallons of turkey soup, no turkey sandwiches!”  His litany of turkey leftovers goes on, but you get the drift.

This year, because of various obligations, we started the holiday season early, on the 22nd.  We had a great ham dinner prepared by partner/spouse, then did our family gift exchange.  The next day, I made homemade bread rolls and cut small ham slices for ham sliders with mac and cheese.  Tuesday was Christmas Eve which was spent with my older sister.  Since it was Christmas Eve, we had traditional tamales.  We also had Spanish rice, and refried pinto beans.  There were tons of snacks wandering around, too.  Christmas Day was spent in a blitz run to the other side of the state to visit our father and brother and his family.  While there, we had Christmas sandwiches and cookies and various chips until we were ready to pop.  Back home for leftover tamales et. al. and bed.  Thursday, last night, we had a surprise birthday party for partner/spouse (whose birthday is actually today.)  We had a stuffed pork roll, and various sides plus German Chocolate Cake.  To sustain the surprise, I did no cooking!

That bring us to today.  It is the real birthday day, and time for a festive meal that does not include ham, tamales, pork roast, cold cuts, cake, or any of the other dozen or so leftovers.  I’m making an rib eye roast.

A rib eye roast is just what it sounds like.  It’s the roast from where the rib eye steak is cut.  I made a paste out of garlic and salt (by hand with a mortar and pestle, thank you very much) then stirred in some dried thyme.  I smeared the paste over the entire roast, then put it in a 500 degree oven for 25 minutes.  Once the time was reached, I turned the oven off.  You leave the oven off and don’t open the oven door for two hours.  The roast continues to cook in the ambient heat and creates a tender, juicy, medium-rare roast with a wonderful crust.

roundroast

I’m steaming some corn niblets in a butter sauce, and I’m pan roasting some green beans.  The green beans will be served with a shallot and balsamic reduction sauce.  It’s easy to do.  Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a good sized pan and add chopped shallots.  Cook them until tender then add half a cup of a good quality balsamic vinegar.  Simmer over a low heat for several minutes until the vinegar is reduced to a syrup consistency.  When the beans are done, place them in a narrow shallow dish and pour the reduction over the beans.  Toss lightly and serve.

green beans with balsamic

Finally, I’m making Yorkshire puddings.  This one is so easy, it’s funny.  One cup of flour, a half teaspoon of salt mixed together.  Add one cup of milk and whisk by hand until there are no lumps.  Add one egg, and blend till smooth.  Leave the batter to sit one hour.  Heat your oven to 425.  While the oven is heating, put your pudding tins in to heat as well.  We use muffin tins.  You can also use a single round cake pan to make one large pudding.  When the oven is heated, remove the tin and working fast place 1/2 teaspoon of vegetable oil in each tin.  Conversely, you can add beef drippings if you have them.  Put back in the oven until the oil is well heated and starting to smoke.  Remove from the oven, and working quickly, fill each tin about 1/3 to 1/2 way full.  Place back in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes.  The puddings will puff, then turn golden brown.

yorkshire pudding

I’m going to make gravy for the puddings.  Every should be served hot.  Then we’re going to a musical being put on at the University.  You may have heard of it.  Mama Mia!  We’re celebrating a birthday, eating good, and having a good time.  Another festive meal during a festive time of year.

Enjoy!

Post # 205 Buche de Noel, the Yule Log

December 23, 2013 at 1:36 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 205 Buche de Noel, the Yule Log

One of the traditions of Yuletide that never really was embraced in America is the Yule Log.  The custom started, as they always do, way back in the misty yesteryears of humankind.  It’s generally accepted as a European custom, but lighting a large fire on the shortest day/longest night of the year as a ritual against the cold and dark can be found all over the world.  That’s what the Yule Log started as.  It’s a bit of sympathetic magic to keep away the things the frightened us.

yule log 1

Centuries ago, families would search for a log of sufficient size to keep the fire going through the day and night.  Over time, it became ritualized and the log came to represent the passing of the old year.  A piece of the log that had not burned completely would be saved for the next year to symbolize continuity and good fortune for the upcoming year.  To add more symbolic magic to the rite, they started adding things to the log, like mistletoe with its white berries, and green moss, and holly with red berries.  You see where I’m going with this, don’t you?

Over time, and with the increase in education and sophistication, the yule log became more of a symbol.  As new religions clashed with old religions, rites and symbols combined and morphed.  The Yule Log became the Christmas Tree.  The tree, the evergreen, came inside and was symbolically set on “fire” with candle lights, eventually giving way to electric lights.  The berries turned into paper, then blown glass ornaments in multiple colors.  Still, though, the log for fire stuck around and became a gift to give each other during the yule season.

yule log 2

Still highly decorated, still set on “fire”, it’s still a log and as a candle holder, it can be used year after year to carry the tradition forward each year.

Now comes the odd part.  Somehow, and I have no idea how, the yule log also morphed into something to eat.  This is how most of us see the yule log with that name now.  It’s a rich, chocolatey cake shaped and decorated to look like a log.

Yule Log 3

It’s still decorated; it’s “on fire” as it’s baked; but no piece is carried over to the next year.  That would be some terrible tasting cake.  The Buche de Noel is a real treat for the eyes as well as the palate and is very easy to make.

But, you know?  I’m not going to tell you how to make it.  Here’s a link for any who want to try, and as always, please let me know how it goes if you do try it.  For those who don’t want to make one, you can buy these in specialty baking stores, and sometimes even in your local mega-super-big-market.

Enjoy!

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/yule-log-recipe/index.html#!

Post # 204 Christmas Snack Puzzle

December 20, 2013 at 1:59 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 204 Christmas Snack Puzzle

For today’s post, I’ve downloaded some fun looking Christmas snacks pictures.  They should be self-evident on how to make them.  However, if you have any questions, let me know.  On to the pics!

Holiday Snacks 01

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Holiday Snacks 04

Holiday Snacks 03

Holiday Snacks 06

Holiday Snacks 07

Holiday Snacks 09

Holiday Snacks 08

Holiday Snacks 10

Holiday Snacks 05

Holiday Snacks 12

Holiday Snacks 11

 

So, Hope you all have a great weekend.  I’ll be back on Monday, but I won’t be posting on Wednesday cuz it’s Christmas!  Back on Friday.  In the meantime:

merry-christmas-greetings

Post # 203 A Couple of Funny Things

December 18, 2013 at 2:12 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 203 A Couple of Funny Things

There’s a lot going on today, what with the holidays coming up, etc.  Today’s post will be a couple of funny stories, but I hope they will be object lessons, too.

Several years ago, when partner/spouse and I moved into our first house together, I was making spaghetti.  It’s one of those meals that everyone likes, and no matter how much you make, it’s always too much.  I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t like my spaghetti so I’m a little proud of it.  I tweak it at times, make it taste different from the last time I made it.  Sometimes, I’ll use just garlic and basil; other times I’ll use the full gamut of Italian seasoning and heavy on the oregano.  It always seems to come out right.  This particular evening, I wanted to try cooking the pasta in the sauce directly.  I thought I could eliminate a step in the process.  I knew I was going to have to get the sauce boiling hot or the pasta wouldn’t cook properly.  I also knew I was going to have to maintain that temp for several minutes without burning so I was ready to stir as much as I thought necessary.  I wanted to use fast cooking pasta so I selected angel hair since it cooks in just a couple of minutes rather than the full twelve to fifteen thicker pastas need.  So all was in readiness, I broke the pasta in half to get it all in the pot at the same time, and threw it all in.  My wonderful, beautiful spaghetti sauce almost immediately turned into a starchy, gluey mess that went from red, to orange, to pink.  Eventually, I was left with a pink pasty mess that had meat chunks suspended in it.  There was a vague flavor of tomato and herbs, but nothing anyone would want to eat.  Everyone tried a taste, and though they tried to spare my feelings, it was pretty obvious no one wanted to eat that glop.  Neither did I.

Moral of that story?  Always cook pasta in boiling water then add to the sauce after draining.  What happened was the starch in the flour melted into the sauce, thickening it.  It’s the same principle behind adding a small amount of the pasta water to a sauce you’re adding pasta to.  Never again will I ever try to cook the pasta in anything other than boiling water.  Ever.

In my kitchen, I try to use as professional a utensil as I can.  When I first started cooking, I used the “got by” theory and all my recipes turned out well.  But as I started using the proper tools for the job, the job miraculously got easier.  I’m also a cheap bastard and would rather wear something out than buy a new one.  And I will never throw something away until I have its replacement.  It’s a truism in my life that as soon as I throw something away, I’m going to need it.  If I don’t have it, or its replacement, then I’m stumped.  One of the tools I use often are my baking sheets.  I use the shiny aluminum half-sheets.  I can fit a dozen cookies on them, two dozen meatballs, a couple of pounds of various vegetables to roast, an entire jelly roll batter, etc.  Very utilitarian.  These are the “go to” baking sheets for professional cooks, and are made to be expendable, almost throw away.  I’m on my second pair, and I’ve had these for nearly four years.  Doesn’t sound like throw away to me.  But you do have to treat them right.  Here’s an example of one:

baking sheet 1

It’s important to keep the shiny surface intact to insure even cooking, and a nice brown bottom on whatever you’re cooking on the sheet.  They are definitely wash by hand with gentle soap.  The instructions that came with them even said to wash while they are still warm for easier removal of food debris.  I treat my pans with cooking spray or shortening before every use to help make clean up easier.  When you don’t treat them properly, here’s the result:

baking sheet 2

This pan was part of my first set of two.  It was the better of the two so I kept it for purposes other than cooking.  When I’d had them for about two months, I unthinkingly put them through the dishwasher.  The result was this picture.  The shiny surface was gone.  Aluminum oxide was rampant.  The other one had turned black and gritty.  Also, I’d used the pan above to cook a pizza and had cut the pizza in the pan.  You can see the knife scoring on the right side of the pan.  I threw this pan out about a month after this picture was taken.  Oxidation had caught up to it and turned black, too.  Lesson learned:  it pays to heed the instructions.

Finally, today, I wanted to make a pound cake.  I haven’t made one in a long time.  I like pound cake.  It has a good flavor by itself, and can be used as a base for a lot of other desserts if you want it to.  So I went to the trusty internet thingy and looked up a different pound cake recipe and latched on to one by Ms. Paula Deen.  Now, the basis for the pound cake is that all the main ingredients are measured by the pound.  A pound of butter, a pound of eggs, a pound of sugar, and a pound of flour.  A couple of other ingredients are added, vanilla, salt, baking powder, but in minimal quantities.  Ms. Deen’s recipe was basically the same with some tweaks she’d learned from her mother and grandmother.  One thing the instructions were clear to point out was to butter and flour the cake pan.  I used a cooking spray designed specifically for baking.  You know the one.  I used my “fluted cake pan”, a bundt pan with ridges.  I sprayed it heavily, baked the cake, then let it cool.  I tipped it out onto a plate and about 99.9% of the cake came out.  Several small and one large section of the crust stayed in the pan.  The cake looked okay except for a few pits, and once I glazed it (I used a lemon glaze) it looks fine.  But lesson learned:  when Paula Deen says of her own recipe to generously grease and flour the pan, that’s what I’m going to do!

Enjoy!

Post # 202 The Flour Brigade (A Short Story by ME!)

December 16, 2013 at 4:51 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 202 The Flour Brigade (A Short Story by ME!)

For today’s post, I’m offering a short story in rough draft that I’ve been working on for some time.  It’s food-oriented so it fits with the theme of the blog.  Please feel free to comment on it, let me know what you think, etc.

 

The Flour Brigade

The knock on the door startled her.  She wasn’t expecting anyone.  To her delight it was Tommy.  Bless him!   He preferred to be called Tom or Thomas, as befitted his age, but to her he would always be Tommy.

“Hi, Mom,” he said as the cold air pushed him inside. “I’m here to do your walks.”

“Thank you, dear.  But I could get one of the neighborhood boys to do it.”

“It’s all right.  I wanted to.  I’m going to get started.  Have some coffee ready.”

She smiled and went to the kitchen at the back of the rambling house.  Pushing sacks of flour and sugar aside, and humming off-key, she made a pot of her “special” coffee.  The sounds of the shovel scraping ice and snow off the sidewalks brought back other pleasant feelings and for a moment, tears threatened.  She pushed them back resolutely.  She made sweet buns because Tommy liked them and she wanted to have something for him to eat.

As Tommy moved around the house, she watched through the windows as she worked.  Tommy was always the considerate one.  He was a real go-getter, but always made time for everyone around him.  He’d been the one to bring home the stray kitten who couldn’t walk or the bird fallen out of the nest.  He’d always taken care of the strays himself, never asking her to do it.  He’d ask advice and then get to work.  His own little family was the most important thing in his life.  Yet he still took time to take care of her.

It seemed in no time, Tommy was banging the snow off his boots and climbing the back steps.  He bustled in, so much like his father that she had to smile.  She took his scarf and gloves as he shrugged out of his coat.  It was a thick, warm coat.  He took care of himself as carefully as he took care of everyone else.

Tommy sat down at the table and wrapped his hands around the warm fragrant cup that smelled of coffee and vanilla.

“Oh, that feels good.  It’s mighty damn cold out there,” he said, gripping the warmth of the cup firmly, sniffing appreciatively.

“Don’t use profanity.” She chided absently.  She’d been saying that to him every day since he was twelve.  It felt oddly comfortable.

“How are things, Mom?  You keeping busy?”

She shrugged the question off. “Oh, certainly.  Keeping this place straight is a big enough job for two people.”

“That wasn’t quite what I meant.”

“I know, dear.”  She put a plate of buns on the table in front of him. “Eat up.”

Tommy reached for one with obvious boyish delight.  For a few moments, the kitchen was silent, but full of the companionable sounds of a man enjoying rich and satisfying sticky sweet rolls.

After Tommy finished his third bun, he sat back with a sigh that shouted contentment and patted his stomach.  She filled his coffee cup again, then pushed the sugar bowl closer.  She usually made it too sweet for him.

Tommy grinned.  He was starting to show signs of that ever-present expression, she noticed with surprise.  Tiny lines in his skin framed the corners of his warm eyes.  His gaze moved about the kitchen as he sweetened his coffee.

“I see the Flour Brigade made their annual visit.”  He commented, nodding toward the counter.

She scowled. “Yes, they stopped by this morning.  Honestly, twenty-five pounds of flour and ten of sugar.  What do they expect?”

“I’d imagine something along the lines of cookies, or cakes, or pies, or cinnamon buns.  Something like that.”

“I didn’t bake last year, or the year before that.  What makes them think I’ll bake this year?”

“They don’t.  But do make certain that the legacy is carried out.  And you know as well as I do that a lot of the women do bake.”

“Well they can.” she replied irritably. “I’m not going to.”

“You’re certainly happy to take the reduction on your power bill, though, aren’t you?”
“I’ve never taken it.  I always pay the full amount.” she responded pertly.

“Come on, mom.  It’s for a good cause.  And you have the time.”

“I don’t want to discuss it.”  That phrase had always silenced him before, and, please God, let it silence him now.  He’d never understand.  Labels were foreign to him.

Tommy looked down at his cup, deciding not to press the point for the moment.

She looked at Tommy, regretting her sharpness, and hoping he would overlook it; not go home.  She wanted company right now.

“How are Ruby and the girls?” she asked after a moment.

Tommy’s face lit up. “They’re fine.  The baby rolled over last night, and I think it was on purpose!”

She smiled as she listened.  Tommy became so animated when he talked about his family.  It was the same things that all young fathers bragged about.  Tommy’s dad had had the same look of pride when talking about his own new family.  She waited for the familiar stab of pain, but it didn’t come.  She couldn’t tell if she was glad, or somehow sad, as though she’d lost something important.  Lost in her thoughts, she didn’t hear Tommy’s question.

“I’m sorry, dear.  I was off in another world.  What did you ask?”

“I was wondering what you thought of me taking Ruby to Florida for a week, and would you watch the girls for us?”

“Heavens, yes!  You know I will.  Is this a Christmas present?”

“Yeah, that and therapy.  And I want to get away from all this snow for a while.  I’m shooting for March.  Is that good for you?”

“Certainly.  Your father always wanted to go to Florida in the winter.  He said he hated the cold and wanted to see a place where people wore shorts and T-shirts in winter.”

There was a beat of silence.  Then Tommy asked, “Do you still miss him, mom?”

She nodded.  It had been so quick.  He’d been out shoveling the walk on a day much like today.  They never knew if it was exertion or what exactly, but his valiant heart had just had enough.  He was dead before the ambulance arrived.

“Mom,” Tommy said quietly, “You need to make the cookies.”

The statement caught her by surprise.

“What?  What does that mean?” she asked.

“You need to face up to dad’s death.”

The words were simple, but they cut worse than a salted razor.

“Face up to it!” she cried, already hating herself for what she knew she was about to do. “I face up to it every day!  I don’t look for him first thing in the morning anymore.  I fix soup-for-one and eat it alone.  I don’t buy him socks, or shirts, or gloves.  And Christmas has gotten easier since I don’t have to guess what he wants…..”  Her voice caught in her throat.  She couldn’t believe the things she’d just said.  She gripped the edge of the table, unaware that she was standing and needed the support.

Tommy got up and put his arms around her.  She buried her face in his shoulder, not wanting to see the look of pity she knew would be on his face.  Blast it!  She wasn’t another of his hurt birds.  She struggled, but he was strong like his father.

“Mom, when was the last time you got out to see anyone other than family?”

“Who can get out in this weather?  You don’t expect me to go sliding down the sidewalk like some Olympic skater?”

“You know what I mean.  We’ve been through this.  Isn’t it time to let go?”

“Let go of what?  Let go of memories?  I don’t want to.”  She looked up at her son and saw his father. “It’s not as easy as you think.”

“If I go upstairs, will I find dad’s clothes in the closet?  Will his shoes be brushed out, and polished?”

She wanted to move away from the criticisms.  She wanted to lash out, but this was her son.  She couldn’t move.

“There’s nothing of your father’s in this house.”  She said in a voice curiously flat.  “I gave those things away long ago.  But I’m not ready.  Not yet.”

“Not ready for what?”

“I’m not ready to be a widow!” she stormed.

“What?” Tommy chuckled in surprise. “You are a widow.  You’ve been a widow for three years.”

“Well, I’m not ready to be treated like one.”  She waved her hand at the bags of flour on the counter.  “They only bring the flour to the widows.  They only give the discounts to the widows.  I don’t want it shoved in my face day after day that the man I loved with all my heart is dead.  It’s hard enough dealing with it on my own.”

“Mom, that’s not what this is about.  All you have to do is bake something and give it away.  It’s not an organized fund raising or anything.”

“Sure.  But Ruby doesn’t get flour at Christmas, does she?”

“No, of course not.  But, mom–”

“Her mother does.  Her mother is a widow.  Gladys Thompson has been getting flour and sugar for years.  I don’t want to be singled out.  There goes another poor widow-woman delivering her charity basket to the needy.  I’ve never accepted roles before, and I’m not going to start now just because my husband died.  Just because I’m old doesn’t mean I’m not still me!”

“Is that what this is about?  You’re not old.  Fifty isn’t ancient.”

“Widowhood is.  When you wear black, and act like a widow all anyone can see is a widow.”

Tommy looked confused. “When have you ever worn black?  Except maybe at the funeral?”

“I’ve always worn black.  You just never looked.”

She looked at the bags on the counter.  They stood alone, mutely testifying their grand purpose.

“Well, Mom, I hate to leave you like this, but I’ve gotta go.  You gonna be alright?”

“I’ll be fine.  You really have to go?” It was very hard to keep the disappointment out of her voice.

“Fraid so.  It’s my turn to do the firehouse.  The guys get downright testy if they slip and break their backsides.  Do you want me to come back after?”

“No, it’ll be dark by then.  You’ll all be over for Christmas Eve?”

“Wouldn’t miss it.  I put birdseed down so you won’t slip.  I don’t think it’s supposed to snow again for awhile, but if it does then I’ll be over to clear the walks again.”

As Tommy was leaving, she adjusted his scarf to keep out the drafts.  Shaking her head, she said, “You’re father never knew how to do up his scarf either.”

“You know, that’s the first time you’ve compared us since he died.”

“Really, dear?  I do it all the time in my mind.  I guess I just thought it was out loud.”

“Hey, lemme ask.  What do you do with the flour if you don’t bake?”

“I give it to the church.  They use it for their suppers and things.”

“Well, I guess that’s sort of in the tradition.  It’s something, anyways.  Bye, mom.  Love you.”

“Bye, dear.  Take care.”

She walked back to the kitchen to clean up.  The flour stood alone, proud but silent.  She cleaned around the bags, feeling as though they were staring at her.  Once the cleaning was finished, she put on a pot for tea.  The flour continued to stare at her.  As she sipped her tea, she looked at the bags, wondering what she could make and to whom she would give it.  Then, she turned her back, trying to decide what to make for supper.

She planned her simple meal of soup and crackers with a fresh sweet bun after then went out to the living room.  She sat with a magazine and an afghan around her feet.  The articles were interesting, but didn’t hold her attention.  She decided to go ahead and get supper out of the way.  Then, maybe she would build a little fire and enjoy the crackling flames and some music.

Humming, she prepared her meal.  She had to move the flour once to get some ingredients.  While she was eating, one bag slumped forward, startling her.

She glared at the flour.  “Oh, shut up.” she growled, and immediately felt better.

As she was clearing her dishes, she saw her pans.  Well, she had some cocoa, and eggs.  Of course, there was the flour and sugar sitting on the counter.  Brownies were easy, and usually impressive.  Did she have nuts?  She didn’t think so, but they weren’t absolutely necessary anyway.  She checked over her supplies.  She had enough ingredients to make six pans of brownies.  But definitely not cookies.  Never cookies.

Resolutely, she walked out of the kitchen, leaving the flour alone on the counter.  She built her fire, but the crackle wasn’t pleasing, and she couldn’t find anything good on the radio.  The television didn’t hold anything of interest, either.

She found herself back in the kitchen staring the flour.  Well, she could always give the church brownies instead of flour this year.  Lord, she’d be making brownies for a week to use up this much flour.  Still, she enjoyed baking, but blast it!  She didn’t like being forced into it.

“I’m too young for this,” she said irritably.   The flour didn’t answer.

She got out her bowls and pans.  Once the kitchen was full of the warm smell of brownies, she looked at all the flour still left.  Next year, she’d have a thing or two to say to the power man who left that flour.  Twenty-five pounds, indeed!  And let one person use the word “widow” and they might end up wearing a pan of brownies.  Dammit.

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