Friday, October 31, 2008

Rainy Day & Night in Georgia

I've never experienced a nor'easter, but last week experienced the Georgia version: a sopping wet day, sometimes a gully-washer, other times just drizzly, but overall, a day to spend indoors, stirring at something on the stove. Which implies that I have all the ingredients on hand for something on the stove. Which I don't. Which is why, on a truly nasty rainy Friday morning I went to Wal-Mart, of all places, to find ingredients for my soul-satisfying Seafood Chowder.

This is how I make it:

1. Start with a good size Dutch oven. I use my All-Clad stainless and put it on a medium heat. Take five or six slices of bacon, stacked and sliced in 1/4 inch lengths. Fry the bacon until crispy and the drain in paper towels, reserving the grease. Pour the grease into a separate metal container and measure out two tablespoonfuls back into the pan, still on medium heat.

2. Chop two medium-size onions and sizzle those in the bacon grease with the barest pinch of salt, if you must. Everything in this chowder has salt in it, so go easy. You can always adjust the seasonings at the end. After the onions are soft and bacony, add 3 minced cloves of garlic, and stir for just a minute. Chop one stalk of celery and add to pot, cooking until soft.

3. Add one 15 oz. can of low sodium chicken broth, or water, plus one small bottle of clam juice. Open three cans of chopped clams (I prefer the chopped to minced, which look like cat food), and add to the soup, juice and all. Toss in three bay leaves and a bit of freshly ground pepper, perhaps a few thyme leaves if the plant is near the kitchen door.

4. Peel three medium all-purpose potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch dice. Put these into pan and let simmer away. When the potatoes are soft, add one pound of frozen flounder, chopped into 1-inch squares. You may also want to add sea scallops, if you have those, too. Shrimp are nice, but an extravagant touch if you ask me. Let the seafood cook through, perhaps five minutes or so.

5. Just before serving, add a staggering amount of half-n-half, perhaps three or four cups, warm up the soup, then adjust the seasoning. Serve with warm cheesy garlic bread, or just the little hexagonal soup crackers. This will restore your soul on a lousy day.

Halloween Cakes

Graveyard Cake
Above is from Halloween 2008, a graveyard cake, not quite as fancy as in years past, but homemade, delicious, and lots of fun for the kids to create. The headstones are Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies, the ghosts are Peeps and the border is pretzels. No prizes, but still a fun project.

Pound Cake Pumpkins by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Halloween 2007, featuring one cute kid and three big pumpkin cakes. I baked pound cake batter in every Bundt pan in the house and frosted two together to make pumpkins. The leaves are fondant, created by the cute kid. This cake was very heavy, delicious, and won the school's award for creativity!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Makin' Bacon

Remember the old dog food commercial where the dog ran through the house chanting in a gruff voice "bacon! bacon! bacon!" I can't remember the product, but I think of the ad every time I make brown sugar bacon for my kids. They are bacon fiends and this is their favorite preparation. I know it's not health food, but for every few weeks, it's nice to see them truly excited about food.

This recipe is all over the internet, sometimes called Candied Bacon, or Sugared Bacon, and it's really very simple: just thick cut bacon, sprinkled with sugar and baked in the oven. I've tried many brands of bacon, but I've always had success with Oscar Mayer Hearty Thick Cut Bacon.

Brown Sugar Bacon

1. Prepare the pan: take a sheet pan and cover it with foil. Do not skip this step -- the grease and sugar from this dish are a bear to clean from a naked pan. If you have a cooling rack that can go in the oven, put this over the foil. It will help keep the bacon from frying in the grease, again helping with the cleanup.

2. Preheat oven to 350. Lay out 1/2 the package of bacon strips on the cooling rack grid. This is enough for my family, but if you have two pans and cooling racks, and a large enough oven you can cook the entire pound at once.

3. Sprinkle brown sugar (dark brown is better, but light brown will work) lightly over each slice, perhaps a 1/2 teaspoon on each slice. If you want to kick it up, you can put a sprinkle of cayenne pepper over the sugar.

4. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. I use convection, so your time may vary.

5. Drain bacon on paper towels, being careful not to let the sugar side touch the towels or you'll have paper-coated bacon slices.

6. Don't worry about calling the kids to the table. The smell of bacon will waft through the air and draw them to you.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Clean Out the Fridge Saturday

My Saturday was spent in the kitchen, trying to replace the chaos in my fridge with orderly packages and containers. I discovered that I have a hoarding disorder, perhaps brought about by the recent Wall Street rollercoaster ride. The vegetable drawer, for example, contained:

5 red, ripe tomatoes
3 zucchini
15 apples (ready for a pie)
1 large hand of ginger
4 limes
3 lemons
5 green tomatoes
1 lb. green beans
2 heads butter lettuce
1 bunch mustard & other greens
2 lbs. carrots
3 celery hearts
5 red onions
3 cooked sweet potatoes
1 butternut squash, intended for soup, or perhaps roasting
1 bunch of radishes
1 bunch of herbs that includes basil, lemon grass and some tiny yellow flowering tarragon stems

I also found in the dry storage: 4 sweet potatoes, 3 baking potatoes, 3 yukon gold potatoes, 15 red potatoes and 6 yellow onions.

Here's what became of the produce:

A. One absolutely luscious double-crust apple pie, stuffed to the brim with Golden Delicious, Fuji and Gala apples. Sure I poured off about a 1/2 cup of juice in the bottom of the plate, but that did nothing to dampen my pride.

B. A lovely salad with butter lettuce and radishes. I may cry the next time I eat iceberg lettuce from a bag. The lettuce and radishes are from my CSA and are the essence of freshness.

C. Evelyn's Briami. Probably the best roasted vegetables on the planet. I've mentioned Evelyn before. She's Evelyn from Athens, Greece, and you can find her on RecipeZaar. Her recipes are all about simplicity and good ingredients and tasty results. The briami recipe, which she assures me can be used with a variety of vegetables, can be found here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Something to Chew On

As I physically and mentally prepare for the meal of the year, I find comfort in Laurie Colwin's words.

"Although turkey is delicious in itself, it is burdened with context as the say in the literary criticism racket. A turkey without seasonal angst is like a baseball game without the national anthem, a winter without snow, a birthday party without candles. For better and worse, the exhaustion, the exhilaration, the expectations, and the complications are a kind of emotional condiment, the secret element that gives turkey its essential spirit."

from More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Ban the Blue Box

I have probably never eaten as much mac and cheese in my life as I have eaten in the past 10 years of feeding young children. My husband and kids love the blue box brand, and I admit to keeping a box in the pantry for really, really crazy times when I need to feed the kids in a fast, efficient way and my brain just can't wrap around the idea of pulling together a real meal.
But for those times when I want to feel like a real mom, the kind who irons dresses with puff sleeves and sashes and curls hair with pretty ribbons, I make my homemade mac and cheese. This is not one of those complicated four-cheese dishes with a crumb crust. This is an everyday stovetop recipe, one that I found in my Pillsbury Cookbook, the ringbound basic book that I received at a bridal shower (Thanks, Brenda!). It's very simple to make, and a little lighter than regular mac and cheese, because there's no butter. Be sure to use whole milk, though, for a creamier texture.

Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

8 oz. uncooked elbow macaroni
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
8 oz. (2 cups) shredded American cheese
1/8 tsp. pepper
Just the slightest bit dry mustard

Cook macaroni to desired doneness as directed on package. Drain; rinse with hot water. In jar with tight-fitting lid, combine flur and 1 cup of the milk; shake until well blended. Pour into medium nonstick saucepan; add remaining milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture boils and thickens. Add cheese; continue cooking until cheese is melted, stirring constantly. Add cooked macaroni and pepper. Heat thoroughly. Serve to ravenous kids who will scarf it down and beg for seconds.
I like to make this early in the day, when the kids are at school and I have time in my kitchen. It reheats quite nicely in the microwave.