Archive for December, 2011


Cookies!!!

One of the very first things I learned how to do in the kitchen was to bake Christmas cookies.  My mom and I would put on matching aprons, and I would help her measure out the ingredients, roll the cookies into balls, press them into cookie molds, and decorate them.  It was an annual tradition to flip through the old gas and electric company cookie books from the 60s and even earlier to decide which cookie recipes to make this year.

I always had a tendency, though, to pick out the unusual or “fussy” cookie recipes and so I often got vetoed in favor of the traditional chocolate chip, snickerdoodles, etc.  This year, though, armed with a functional kitchen of my own, two cookie sheets, two cooling racks, an assortment of mixing bowls and an antique pastry blender, I decided to search the internet for some brand new cookie recipes to experiment with.

When we found Aarti’s Garam Masala-Chocolate Gingerbread cookies we were intrigued.  My fiance, who loves Indian food, really wanted to make a garam masala cookie, but since I’m not a big fan of gingerbread, we googled around until we found these Indian spice cookies. They don’t look like much, but they’re soft and have a delightful spiced aftertaste.  Definitely a recipe to repeat next year!

Then I headed over to In Jennie’s Kitchen to see what kinds of cookie recipes she had and did I ever find some good ones!

I started off with these Chipotle Orange Chocolate Chip Cookies which turned out to be a great favorite everywhere I brought them. If you’re making them, do make sure you use actual chipotle powder though. I couldn’t find any, and thought that it would work to buy dried chipotles and just grind them up. But dried chipotles have the consistency of sun-dried tomatoes–they don’t willingly turn into powder! Not even with the chopping attachment on my immersion blender (don’t have a food processor) or the mortar and pestle! I did finally get enough sufficiently small pieces to (almost) comprise the half teaspoon called for by the recipe, but in the end you couldn’t really taste the chipotle in the cookies because it just wasn’t evenly distributed through the batter. But they were still good!

Chipotle Orange Chocolate Chip!

Then I found these Deep Chocolate Cherry Cashew Cookies. The dough looks like brownie batter. And they have dried cherries in them. You should make these cookies.

Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew

I also made sugar cookies–nothing fancy about them, but I’m pretty sure that cut-out, decorated sugar cookies are the very definition of a fussy cookie.  But they are good!  I just flavored mine with almond extract, but if you wanted to fancy them up you could add in different flavors of extract, orange zest, or other spices!  I also frosted a few–I basically made a variation on one of the many cookie icing recipes out there using some homemade chocolate mint syrup that I had in the fridge from my mom.  But I think I need to work on my cookie icing recipe…it was way too runny.

And then we come to the ultimate cookie.  The combination of all of my most favorite dessert flavors (almond paste, cream cheese frosting, and chocolate!).  My own version of chokladbiskvier.

The most delicious cookies EVER!!

Now I had seen almond macaroon recipes many times, including in some of those old gas company cookbooks, but until I stumbled across this newspaper recipe contest winning recipe it had never occurred to me that a simple almond macaroon could become oh so much more!

Originally I had intended to make the recipe as it appeared in the article.  But, as you see, the buttercream filling calls for pasteurized egg yolks.  And I could not for the life of me find pasteurized egg yolks.  Or pasteurized whole eggs.  I did actually find pasteurized egg whites, but that didn’t do me any good.  I thought about pasteurizing my own eggs, but lacking a candy thermometer, it seemed like a recipe for disaster, and plus I wasn’t sure how the extra liquid you need to add to the yolks to pasteurize them would affect the buttercream recipe.  And while I was fairly certain that my eggs were not contaminated with salmonella, having once *had* salmonella, I was just not willing to take the risk of using them raw.

And then I realized–I’m not actually that huge of a fan of buttercream anyways…why not substitute my favorite frosting instead?  But then that created a whole new series of questions–would it adhere to the macaroons?  Would I be able to dip them in the melted chocolate without it falling off?  And what kind of proportions would I need?

I ended up using the almond macaroon part of the original recipe (it’s the same as pretty much every other almond macaroon recipe–almond paste and egg whites!) and then I made a half batch of this cream cheese frosting recipe from all recipes. Instead of dipping the cookies upside down into the chocolate, I just spooned it over the top. In retrospect I didn’t need all of the chocolate called for in the original recipe, and actually I could have just drizzled the chocolate to make the cookies prettier (and easier to eat), but they definitely tasted good!

*                                                              *                                                              *

So if you’re looking to branch out and make some delicious and different cookies next year, give some of these recipes a try!  I promise they’re all tasty!  And if you don’t have a stand mixer or even a hand mixer?  Don’t worry!  All of the above cookies were made completely by hand using my trusty, wooden-handled antique pastry blender that I inherited from my grandma, a cheap yet sturdy whisk, and a wooden spoon.  All that’s required is a little muscle and a little patience.

(Though I must admit, I’m super excited to try out the new electric hand mixer I got for Christmas!)

Clockwise from top left: chipotle orange chocolate chip, sugar cookies, Indian spice cookies, a stray sugar cookie, and dark chocolate cherry cashew cookies.

(Or: How to make a healthy dinner when you’re tired and feeling lazy)

The other day I was torn by two conflicting desires.  On the one had, I was really in the mood for something healthy for dinner.  On the other, I was feeling really lazy and not in the mood for cooking.  Some time in the afternoon I decided to soak some black beans since they’re healthy, delicious, and practically cook themselves.  (If you’re feeling even lazier than I was, or you just don’t have the time to soak dried beans for an hour or two, you can cheat and use canned.  Just give them a good rinse before cooking them.)

Then I had to decide what to have with the beans, since a pot of beans by itself isn’t really a meal.  Then I remembered that I had a jar full of brown rice in the cupboard!  Beans and rice is a classic pairing, but the dish was still missing something.  I started digging around in the (very full!) freezer and discovered half a bag of frozen corn just waiting to be used up.  Perfect!

I mixed them all together, added some dried cilantro and chili powder, and topped the whole thing with a little grated cheddar, salsa, and guacamole, and dinner was complete!

Beans, rice and corn

And if you’re wondering…yes, the rice boiled over.  It always does.

Beans, Rice and Corn
(serves 5-6) 

  • 3/4c black beans
  • 1/4 bouillon cube
  • 1c frozen corn
  • 1c brown rice
  • 1/4tsp salt
  • pinch of chili powder
  • pinch of dried cilantro
Toppings (optional):
  • guacamole
  • grated cheddar cheese
  • salsa
  • sour cream
If you’re using dry beans, give them a good rinse, and soak them for an hour or so before you plan to begin cooking.  (If you’re using canned, just rinse them off before you start cooking.)  Put your beans in a medium-sized pan on the stove, add the quarter bouillon cube (more or less to taste, but I find them to be really salty), and add enough water to cover the beans by about 3/4 of an inch (less if using canned).  Over medium heat, bring your beans to a boil, and then reduce the heat, cover them, and simmer until they start to get soft.  Then uncover them and continue to simmer until the beans are fully cooked and most of the water has boiled off.  With dry beans, this process should take about an hour, maybe less if you like your beans a bit harder.  With canned beans it will take a lot less time since they’re already fairly soft and you really just need to heat them up.
Meanwhile, put your rice on the stove to boil, and try to time it so that it gets done at about the same time as the beans.  The rice I had takes a good 45 minutes to cook, so I started it not long after the beans went in.  Keep an eye on the rice so it doesn’t boil over and make a mess all over your stove!
When the rice and beans are almost done, thaw the corn in the microwave.  It doesn’t have to be hot–it will warm up plenty when you add it to the beans and rice–you just don’t want it to be frozen.
Once all three components are ready, combine them all in whichever pot happened to be biggest, and season with salt, chili powder, and cilantro to taste.  Top it with any combination of cheese, guacamole, sour cream, or salsa, and enjoy!

Twitter

You can now follow me on Twitter!  Just look for @ricealwaysboilsover (thericealwaysboilsover was too long for twitter to handle)!

At long last, the Thanksgiving post has arrived!  Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays, but I’ve come to appreciate it exponentially more in recent years, partially because I’ve gotten more into cooking, but also because I spent three Thanksgivings in a row (2006-2008) outside the US.  In 2008 I did get to attend the US embassy potluck Thanksgiving, which was fabulous and full of delicious food, but now that I’m back in the US, I’m just so thankful (no cliche intended!) that I get to spend Thanksgiving with my family!

As has become the tradition recently, we had two Thanksgivings this year.  The first was at my parents’ house and had nearly 20 people in attendance (so many cousins!).  The second?  I hosted!  Since my fiance and I have a big table and a nicely functional kitchen (unlike the teeny kitchen we were working with in his apartment last year!) I thought it would be lots of fun to have both of our parents plus his sister and her husband over for Thanksgiving.

I had never made a turkey before.

I had never cooked that many dishes all at once before.

I am really bad at timing (as in getting all components of a meal to be done cooking at the same time.  This is why I usually cook one-dish meals.)

This had great potential for disaster.

In the end, mistakes were made, there were a few things that didn’t make it onto the table for various reasons, and the timing wasn’t perfect, but no one went home hungry, I didn’t light anything on fire, and nothing turned out to be completely inedible.  So I’d say it was a success! And now you can learn from everything I did wrong and do much better than I did the next time you host a major gathering!

Part 1: Overall Tips: Start in advance.  Way in advance.  Like…a month or two in advance even.  Your freezer is your friend for many things, from roast pumpkin and squash to cranberry sauce.  So don’t, for example, stress yourself out by trying to roast the pumpkins for pumpkin pie two days before Thanksgiving, because you will inevitably be stuck with a stubborn pumpkin that does NOT want to be cut open.  (More on that later).  Save yourself the headache, and roast your pumpkins in October, puree the flesh and then freeze it, leaving yourself free to make stress-free pumpkin pie from scratch.  Same for cranberry sauce–make it in early November and freeze it.  Applesauce too.  And if you happen to be making coconut butternut squash soup, freeze that too!

Just don’t freeze your mashed potatoes.  Those are better fresh.

Another tip: get a cooler to use as a temporary spare refrigerator.  It is likely while you’re in the process of preparing all these dishes, that you will run out of refrigerator space.  We were lucky that it was just barely cold enough to keep some things outside, but if you live in a warmer climate or the weather is unseasonably warm for late November, you will want a cooler with ice in it for overflow refrigeration.

Part 2: The Dishes I made a lot of food.  Too much, judging by how full my freezer still is.  But leftovers are good!  And I’m convinced that had we been able to use the bigger plates, people would have eaten more.  But more on the plates in a bit. So here’s what I made:

  • Turkey – I bought a 12lb organic bird.  I had wanted a 10lb turkey, but I didn’t know until it was too late that you can pre-order your turkey from the grocery store.  I bought it fresh, four days before Thanksgiving.  Its sell-by date was the day I bought it–I was a little concerned, but it was fine.  But I’d definitely say pre-order your turkey if at all possible.A note on turkeys–obviously not everyone can afford or even find organic turkeys.  So if you can’t, and if you don’t hunt your own wild turkeys (I certainly don’t!), then at least aim to get one that is a) under 14lbs or so (have you seen those 25lb turkeys?? They’re so breast-heavy they’d tip over!  Just get two if you need to feed more people) b) natural, as in it hasn’t been treated with all manner of antibiotics and chemicals, and hasn’t been injected with weird stuff and isn’t self basting.

    Once you’ve got your turkey, for the love of all that’s holy do not just set it in your refrigerator!!!  Put a large plate or platter under it at the very least, or better yet set it in the roasting pan.  It WILL leak.  You don’t want to know how long it took me to scrub out our fridge.

    If you’re going to brine your turkey, keep in mind that it takes quite a long time (8-16 hours), so plan accordingly.  I didn’t brine mine this year, but maybe next year!

    Assuming you’re doing what I did, on Thanksgiving morning, take your turkey out of the fridge and move it over to the sink.  It should be thawed by this point if it was frozen.  Make sure you’ve given yourself enough time!  You’ll want about 2 hours of prep time (this is generous, but you never know how long it’s going to take, especially if you’ve never done it before!) and you’ll want to make sure you have enough time to roast the bird.

    Turn on the cold water, and start washing your turkey, inside and out.  Make sure you take out the neck and giblets.  And please do us all a favor and throw the giblets away.  Unless you really like organ meat and know how to cook it, neither of which are true for me.  Just make sure you don’t do what I did and throw them in a pot to try and make some sort of stock.  You’ll just end up stinking up your entire house.  It’s *really* hard to get rid of that smell.Anyways, rinse your bird thoroughly, and check it for unplucked feathers.  It likely will have a few, and if it’s an organic bird, possibly more than a few.  You especially need to make sure to check the armpits and crevices by the legs.

    Once the turkey is all clean, pat it with some paper towel and set it in your roasting pan.  Now you’re ready to stuff/season/flavor/otherwise prepare the bird so that it comes out juicy and delicious!  This is where a recipe can definitely come in handy.  I used Jamie Oliver’s turkey recipe which was definitely a good choice.  The turkey came out moist and tender–it’s true what they say: bacon makes everything better!  I did find it rather difficult to get the pancetta wrapped rosemary skewers into the thigh, and I ended up only doing two per thigh unlike the 6 he recommends, but I found that by poking a hole with a knife, and then widening it with my finger, I could shove the pancetta in there first, and then pin it in place with the rosemary.  Just try not to make the hole too big–the skin needs to be mostly intact to keep the juices in.  The other key point of his recipe is to stuff the turkey breasts.  Even if you’re not making his exact recipe, you should totally do this!  It’s a little tricky to get your hand up in there, but that was the moistest, juiciest turkey breast I’ve ever had.

    His name was Mr. Turkey.  He was delicious.

  • Mashed potatoes – Not much to say here…mashed potatoes are tasty.  And easy.  Just keep an eye on them so they don’t boil over.
  • Mushroom gravy – Since my fiance is a vegetarian, I made mushroom gravy instead of gravy from the drippings.  It’s really easy to do, and plus you can do it earlier in the day so you won’t be scrambling to make gravy while your turkey is resting and your guest are arriving.  I’ll put the recipe down at the bottom of this post.
  • Stuffed onions – I decided that for the vegetarian stuffing, I would make Smitten Kitchen’s stuffed onions. The stuffing inside of these onions?  Delicious!  The onions?  A giant pain in the neck.  She’s right that a melon baller is definitely the appropriate tool for hollowing out an onion, but if you’re making 10-15 of these, unless you have onion goggles, your eyes will be burning for the rest of the day.  And you will stink like onions for quite some time thereafter.  Still determined to make them?  Hollow them out as much as you possibly can without punching a hole in the side–if you can get it down to one layer of onion?  Awesome.  And make sure you pre-roast the onions long enough before stuffing them.  I was a bit rushed for time, and I don’t think they went nearly long enough–and you really don’t want that raw onion flavor, especially if you, like me, were unsuccessful in scooping out all but one layer of onion.
  • Sausage stuffing – I made the stuffing from Jamie Oliver’s recipe, but sadly, this was one of the things that didn’t make it onto the table.  I had put the leftover stuffing that wasn’t in the turkey into a casserole dish and stuck it in the oven, but I don’t think the sausage managed to cook through.  It is currently in the freezer, waiting for me to toss it in a skillet to turn it into something else.
  • Green bean casserole – The stereotypical dish that can be made entirely from canned goods!  Blech!  Make it from scratch.  Blanch your fresh green beans for three minutes (less if they’re not very tough), toss them in a casserole dish with homemade cream of mushroom soup (I used Smitten Kitchen’s recipe) or just use some of your mushroom gravy, and top it either with panko breadcrumbs or make your own crunchy onions. But since crunchy onions roast at a much higher temperature than turkey and I only have one oven, alas, I had to forego the crunchy onions.
  • Sweet potato cranberry bake – My fiance got this recipe from a coworker and can I just say–yum!  Chunks of tender sweet potato (the real stuff!  the canned stuff is nasty!), tart bursts of juice from the fresh cranberries, and a crunchy, sweet oatmeal and brown sugar topping!
  • Kale and apple salad – Just what it sounds like, and with a lemon vinaigrette dressing and some walnuts on top.  You’ll want to blanch the kale a little bit to make it less tough, and you can do this ahead of time–just make sure you have an ice bath ready for it, because you don’t want mush!
  • Cranberry apple chutney – This is one of those things that is super easy to make but looks really impressive in the end.  All you really do is simmer fresh cranberries and a granny smith apple with some spices until the cranberries pop and the sauce thickens.  It’s good by itself, on a leftover turkey sandwich, or on crackers with a bit of goat cheese!in progress
  • Applesauce – If you, like me, bought an absurd number of apples at the farmer’s market, make applesauce!  I don’t bother peeling the apples–I just cube them and toss them in a pot with a little water (only enough to cover the bottom layer or so of apples), ground cinnamon and cloves, and a bit of allspice.  Cook it down until the apples are mushy, add a little brown sugar if it needs it, mash it all up, and there you go!
  • Coconut butternut squash soup – This time around I had a 6lb butternut squash.  It was absurdly huge.  But in fact, the ratio of 6lbs of butternut squash to two cans of coconut milk makes a delightfully textured soup that actually deserves to be called soup and not a puree.  Fresh grated ginger as opposed to ground also adds a nice dimension of flavor.
  • Pumpkin pie – Like I said above–if you’re going to roast your own pumpkins, do it in advance!  You don’t want to end up with a pumpkin like this throwing off your entire day:

    I do now have a lovely pair of pumpkin shell bowls!  The shell stayed super hard, even after roasting for 45 minutes!

In addition to all the dishes mentioned above, my fiance (the baker in this relationship!) baked three loaves of French bread and an apple pie.  Yum!

And now the recipe I promised you:

Mushroom Gravy

  • 2 handfuls crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 3tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2tbsp flour
  • 1c mushroom broth

Put a saucepan on the stove over medium heat and add 1tbsp of the butter.  Let it melt and start to sizzle a bit, and then add your mushrooms.  Cook them until they’re nicely browned and then remove them from the pan and set aside.  In the same pan, add your remaining two tablespoons of butter, and when it’s melted, add the flour.  Stir until it forms a thick paste, then add your mushroom broth.  Reduce heat and stir more or less constantly until your sauce starts to thicken.  Then  add the mushrooms back in, and cover it and keep it warm on the stove until you’re ready to use it, stirring occasionally.

Brussels Sprouts

I know, I know, I’ve been neglecting the blog lately.  Unfortunately grad school has been getting in the way of both cooking and blogging.  I owe you some long posts on Thanksgiving and Christmas cookies…but for now, I want to say a few words about brussels sprouts.

Everybody (supposedly) hates brussels sprouts.  But how many of you haters out there have never actually even tried them?  I never had!  I know I always assumed I would dislike them, but until last night, I had never actually *tasted* any brussels sprouts to find out for sure.  But now, having had them, I can tell you that they’re actually pretty good, IF you cook them right.

Luckily, there’s 101 Cookbooks to help you out.  Heidi Swanson’s Golden-Crusted Brussels Sprouts are tender on the inside, caramelized and slightly crunchy on the outside, and (best of all) topped with cheese.  The golden-brown caramelization is really the key–it adds a whole new dimension of flavor to the slightly cabbagey sprouts.

So go out there and get yourself a little tree of brussels sprouts–they’re all kinds of nutritious, containing ridiculously high levels of Vitamins C and K–and redeem this much maligned vegetable!