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Archive for November, 2009

It wouldn’t be thanksgiving in my family without at least two or more post-thanksgiving dinners of hot turkey sandwiches.  I look forward to these almost as much as the main event.  My mom always makes a ton of gravy, so we’re set for several nights. Even so, there comes a point when you’re scraping the bottom of the gravy pan, and it’s time to move on.  But what about the leftover turkey?

Last year I discovered a recipe for delicious after-thanksgiving turkey enchiladas.  They’re a perfect way to reinvent leftover turkey so that it feels like a completely different meal.  All of a sudden, the turkey is smothered in tomatoes and smoky chipotle peppers, served with a side of guacamole, and a cold glass of beer.

This year, I went in a different direction and made turkey pot pie with herb biscuits.  I’ve been wanting to try this recipe for quite some time, but I rarely have leftover chicken or turkey around the house.  The carrots, peas, and mushrooms band together to make a creamy base, then it’s topped with light, flaky herb biscuits and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.  The original recipe uses chicken, and I’ll leave the directions just as they were written, so you can make this dish any time of year.  It’s comfort food at its finest.

Turkey pot pie with herb biscuits
Adapted from the Foster’s Market cookbook

Ingredients

1 (4- 4 1/2 pound) chicken
12 Fosters Herb Biscuits, uncooked (see below for recipe)
6 Tablespoons butter
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 celery ribs, chopped [I substituted an onion for the celery]
8 ounces fresh button mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/4 cup all -purpose flour
1 box (10 ounces) frozen green peas
1 Tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 Egg
2 Tablespoons milk

1. Place chicken in a large pot and add enough water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until meat is fully cooked, about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare biscuits and set aside.

2. Remove chicken from pot and reserve 5 cups cooking liquid. When chicken is cool enough to handle, pull off meat in large chunks. Set aside.

3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add carrots, celery, and mushrooms. Sauté, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. Add flour and cook, while stirring, until flour is light brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Slowly whisk in reserved cooking liquid and bring to a low boil while whisking. Add peas and sage. Season with salt and pepper, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick, 10 to 15 minutes.

4. Add chicken meat, remove from heat, and transfer mixture into a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Top with biscuits. Beat egg and milk together and lightly brush over biscuits.  Sprinkle parmesan cheese over the biscuits.  Bake potpie until biscuits are golden brown and chicken mixture is bubbling around edges, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

Herb Cheddar Biscuits
Adapted from the Foster’s Market cookbook

Makes 1 dozen 2 1/2-inch Biscuits

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese [I omitted the cheddar cheese and just sprinkled parmesan on top]
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley [I also added 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon and 2 tablespoons chopped chives]
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Egg wash: 1 large egg beaten with 2 tablespoons milk

1. Preheat the oven to 425°. Lightly grease a baking sheet and set aside.

2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.

3. Cut the butter into the flour mixture using a pastry blender or two knives, until mixture is coarse and crumbly and resembles coarse meal. Stir in the cheese and parsley.

4. Make a well in center of flour mixture, pour in milk, and stir with a fork just until dough comes together. Do not overmix. Turn onto a lightly floured surface, and form the dough into a flat round disk.

5. Pat or roll the dough into a circle about ½ inch thick. Cut out biscuits using a floured 2 1/2 -inch-round cutter. Do not twist cutter. Transfer biscuits to the prepared baking sheet and brush with the egg wash. Place in the oven and bake until brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Serve hot.

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I made an executive decision this year on our Halloween pumpkins.  Instead of buying carving pumpkins (note the helpful use of the word “carving” in the name), I assured my family that they’d be much happier with pie pumpkins.  Sure, they’re a bit smaller.  Yes, they may take a bit more work to carve.  But we can eat them!  Think of the salty roasted pumpkin seeds and the baked pumpkin that will keep us flush with pies, breads, and pancakes for weeks!  My daughter’s preschool field trip to a pumpkin patch provided us with two lovely pie pumpkins, and that clinched it.  Let’s carve some pumpkins!  Fun family activity!

My husband laid out some newspaper, selected a sharp knife, and prepared to carve.  He applied some pressure near the pumpkin’s stem, and then some more.  The knife didn’t budge.  We tried a heavier, sharper knife.  No luck.  I briefly ponder the fact that pie pumpkins are good for baking precisely because they have a very thick layer of flesh: soft and tender when baked, but seemingly impenetrable by human hands when fresh.  After an alarming series of violent stabs in and around the exterior of the pumpkin, my husband abruptly stood up and marched into the garage.

As I gently explained to my kids that maybe it would be better to paint the pumpkins this year, Dave rounded the corner with his power drill.  My kids let out squeals of delight.  Now this was some good family fun.  Who knew a power drill could create such perfectly-sculpted facial features?  As tiny flecks of pumpkin flesh flew through the air, our little gathering would never be mistaken for a traditional holiday ritual, but my kids were giddy at the opportunity to take turns holding the drill.  And after all that, I got my baked pumpkin.

Much of the drilled pumpkin was used in this holiday bundt cake with maple glaze.  Dorie calls this an “all-in-one” holiday bundt cake because it includes so many classic holiday ingredients: pumpkin, spice, cranberries, apples, nuts.  It’s all there.  This is a lovely bundt cake, full of flavor, but I have one little complaint.  Because it calls for butter instead of oil, a choice that prioritizes flavor over texture, the cake was a tiny bit dry.  For me, having a soft, moist cake is more important than the extra dose of buttery goodness (though I adore buttery goodness), so next time I would substitute oil and/or applesauce for some of the butter.  For the same reason, I also wish I’d used fresh cranberries instead of dried.  The cake would have been great with those little gems of plump, juicy flavor (instead of the relatively dry, chewy texture of dried cranberries).  All in all, the elements are in place for a great holiday bundt cake, but it’s worth playing around with a few ingredients to make it your own.

Thanks to Britin of The Nitty Britty for choosing this all-in-one holiday bundt cake with maple glaze.  You can find the recipe on her site or on pp. 186-187 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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We had days and days of cold and rain here in North Carolina this past week.  So much rain that my kids’ weekly playgroup was cancelled.  The ever-intrepid dad in the group suggested an outing.  But one mom said she was making homemade applesauce with her son.  Another said she and her son were too cozy at home to face the wind and rain.  Uncertain whether to brave the elements or embrace the warmth of home, I settled on the latter.  We turned on the gas fireplace, pulled out some old home movies, and made a batch of sugar-topped molasses spice cookies.

The cookies were just meant to provide an afternoon activity, really.  My son runs the KitchenAid mixer like a pro (though he’s overly fond of the higher settings and tends to “take a mile,” as they say).  My daughter has a lighter touch and specializes in sifting, cracking eggs, and rolling dough.  But with the winds whipping the trees so their silvery undersides were showing and the rain pelting against the windowpane, I began to wonder if this might become one of those days my kids will remember for a long time.  The warm fire, home movies, and the sweet spice of freshly-baked cookies perfuming the entire house.  That’s my idea of home.

As it happens, the cookies were wonderful.  When baking with my children, I keep the expectations low so they can play around.  Otherwise, I’d be hovering over them on each step, carping about spills, slowing down the mixer (again), and generally extracting all the joy out of baking.  So, in this case, my son most definitely overbeat the dough and my daughter spilled a bunch of the dry ingredients in her overzealous sifting, but these cookies weren’t bothered in the least.

They were soft, chewy, with an intense flavor of spice and musky sweetness from the molasses.  Well, mine were soft and chewy.  The recipe suggests that you flatten the balls of dough before placing them in the oven — to create a flat, crisp cookie — but I skipped this step.  I’m a sucker for soft and chewy.  Again, I have to give a plug to David Lebovitz for creating the perfect accompaniment to these cookies: cinnamon ice cream.  I’d post the recipe, but you must own The Perfect Scoop by now, right?

Chock full of ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and a few grinds of black pepper, I wondered if my kids would find these cookies too intense.  No worries on that count.  We all sat together on the couch, noshing on molasses spice cookies and marveling at how time flies, and it was a perfect afternoon.  Just before bedtime, of course, my kids tore off all the couch pillows and staged a series of acrobatic moves to rival any high-flying act of Cirque du Soleil.  Inevitably, they bonked heads, dissolved into tears, and my husband and I slowly carried them upstairs to bed.  Just one rainy, blustery day… but maybe they’ll remember.

Thanks to Pamela of Cookies with Boys for choosing these sugar-topped molasses spice cookies.  You can find the recipe on her site or on pp. 76-77 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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I’m crazy about homemade macaroni and cheese.  I adore it.  Once I start eating mac and cheese, sprinkled with a bit of salt, I don’t ever want to stop.

My favorite macaroni and cheese is always pure and unadorned.  The modern twists and 21st-century updates lure me from time to time, but I always go back to the holy trinity: macaroni, cheddar, and milk.

Strangely, I’m still searching for the perfect recipe.  I tend to move through mac and cheese phases.  For a while, I made the NY Times crusty macaroni and cheese, which is, very simply, a pound of pasta held together with a pound and a half of cheese, with a little bit of milk thrown in.  It’s very much like the family recipe made by my mom and my aunt Barbara, and you really can’t go wrong with it, but I eventually wanted to find something a bit creamier.

So I switched to a fussier version of macaroni and cheese with Westphalian ham, lemon zest, and thyme.  A nice change of pace, but a flash in the pan.

When I discovered Patricia Wells’ macaroni gratin in The Paris cookbook, I thought I’d found the one.  It’s so simple and rich and creamy with a gruyere crust and fresh chives.  But I slowly realized that it’s just not quite homey enough to become a staple.  I missed the cheddar cheese flavor that dominated all the macaroni and cheeses of my youth.

Next, I fell in love the NY Times creamy macaroni and cheese.  It’s so thickly cheesy and robust and it seems to work with whatever cheese you have lying around the house.  Alas, the last time I made it, I could sense a slight lessening of its power over me.

I’m not sure where to turn.  I’ve tried the popular recipe from Martha Stewart, but that’s not for me.  A local restaurant recently published their mac and cheese recipe in a cookbook called Chefs of the Triangle — it calls for three cups of heavy cream and three cups of cheese (Gruyere, Asiago, and cheddar) for a half-pound of pasta.  I’m not one for cooking light, but I also don’t own a defibrillator.

It feels like there should be a personal ad designed to address this predicament.  “Desperately seeking perfect macaroni and cheese.  Prefer shapely cavatappi and classic elbows.  Must have at least a 1:1 ratio of pasta to cheese.  Open to high-maintenance roux bases and unusual cheese combinations.”

Since I know of no mac and cheese support groups out there, I put my request to you.  Send me your recipes for macaroni and cheese! It’s getting cold.  We’re all hunkering down for the long winter.  I, for one, can’t imagine how I’ll get through the next few months without a delicious, cheesy, go-to recipe for macaroni and cheese.  Think of it as a public service.  Help?!

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I’ve never been entirely clear on the many varieties of fruit desserts, though I love their silly names.  Grunt, slump, crumble, crisp.  To be honest, I’d rather have pie.  Or, better yet, this chocolate cake.  Only recently have I begun baking my way through the wide world of fruit desserts with crumbly toppings.  It started this summer when my friend (and fabulous baker) Michaela brought over the ingredients for a peach and blueberry cobbler.  We worked on the cobbler together in the kitchen while our husbands played with the kids outside.  With a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on the side, it was the best dessert of the summer (and I learned all about the wonders of powdered buttermilk).

That wave carried me into fall where I made plum crumble with ginger ice cream, and that became my favorite dessert of the year.  Cobbler for summer, crumble for autumn, and now Tuesdays with Dorie brings a crisp.  Despite my newfound love affair with fruit desserts, I still had my doubts.  I’ve had crisps before, and I know crisps.  In general, I’m not a fan.  Even straight from the oven, they have a stale quality, like eating a week-old oatmeal cookie, that leaves me wanting something else.

So I entered this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie challenge with low expectations, and I did what I could to keep it interesting.  Instead of using apples and cranberries, I substituted fresh pears, apricots, dried cherries, and golden raisins.  And the topping called for a good bit of coconut, which I adore, so this recipe had serious potential.

Not so.  The crisp came out of the oven, I let it cool, added a dollop of whipped cream, and tasted.  Week-old oatmeal cookie.  Big time.  I ate a few more bites, then pushed it across the table for my husband to finish.

“You don’t like it?” he asked.

“Eh,” I said.  “Not really.”  He happily finished my crisp.

Fast forward 24 hours.  My husband suggests that we make vanilla ice cream.  I pull out The Perfect Scoop and note a few flavors I’ve wanted to try, including toasted coconut.  He leaps at the chance, in part because he’s on a mission to prove that he doesn’t hate coconut (god love him).  For 17 years, I’ve had a low- to no-coconut rule in effect, because he doesn’t like the texture.  He’s ok with coconut milk or coconut flavor in the abstract, but he’s horrified by the little chewy flakes.  I, on the other hand, never had a birthday as a child without a coconut cake covered in those divinely chewy flakes.

I hasten to add that this toasted coconut ice cream is steeped in coconut, but the coconut flakes are strained out.  So my husband toasted a lot of coconut (and even put a flake or two between his teeth, all the while grimacing like a man gnashing through penicillin), steeped to his heart’s content, then strained every last molecule of solid coconut from that custard.  You’ve never seen such a perfectly smooth custard in your life.  Let’s just say my husband would have done very well for himself during the gold rush.

At any rate, that evening we pulled out the crisps, again, this time with a generous scoop of toasted coconut ice cream on top (and, in my case, a few extra toasted coconut flakes sprinkled on the ice cream).  I’m telling you, it was a revelation.  The dessert was amazing.  And it dawned on me that all of my new favorite fruity friends — the cobbler, the crumble, and now the crisp — were topped with delicious homemade ice cream.  That just may be the secret.  Unlocked.  Fruit desserts with whipped cream.  Eh. Fruit desserts with ginger ice cream, toasted coconut ice cream, or the granddaddy of them all, salted caramel ice creamTranscendent.

So.  A note to all fruit-neutral kindred spirits out there.  Before you bake that grunt or slump or crumble or crisp, make sure the freezer is stocked with some interesting ice cream.  And marry a man who’s willing to pretend he doesn’t hate coconut, just for you.

Toasted coconut ice cream

Adapted from The Perfect Scoop

1 cup dried shredded coconut, preferably unsweetened
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
Big pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
5 large egg yolks [I used 4 egg yolks and it was great]
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, or 1 teaspoon rum

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Spread the coconut on a baking sheet and bake for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring it frequently so it toasts evenly. Remove it from the oven when it’s nice and fragrant and golden brown.

2. In a medium saucepan, warm the milk, 1 cup of the heavy cream, sugar, and salt and add the toasted coconut. Use a paring knife and scrape all the vanilla seeds into the warm milk, then add the pod as well. Cover, remove from the heat, and let steep at room temperature for 1 hour.

3. Rewarm the coconut-infused mixture. Set a mesh strainer over another medium saucepan and strain the coconut-infused liquid through the strainer into the saucepan. Press down on the coconut very firmly with a flexible rubber spatula to extract as much of the flavor from it as possible. Remove the vanilla bean halves (rinse and reserve them for another use), and discard the coconut.

4. Pour the remaining 1 cup heavy cream into a large bowl and set the mesh strainer on top. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm coconut-infused mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

5. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream. Mix in the vanilla or rum and stir over an ice bath until cool.

6. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

***

Thanks to Em of The Repressed Pastry Chef for selecting this apple-cranberry crisp that transformed into a pear-cherry crisp with toasted coconut ice cream.  You can find the recipe on her site or on page 422 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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When I was growing up, my little town had a free book exchange located on a small patch of grass, just off Main Street.  It was a rustic-looking thing, just a covered box on stilts, but it strikes me now as a delightful symbol of small town life.  Every neighborhood should have a book and magazine exchange.  We’d learn about our neighbors, discover shared interests, pursue new ones, and have something to talk about other than our lawns.  I have this dreamy image of families sitting by the curb discussing the latest issue of The New Yorker, or circulating favorite recipes from old cookbooks, or teaching one another how to train for a marathon, learn about wine, bake.

So imagine my delight when my parents retired to a village that has its own book exchange.  It’s a converted old smokehouse, dark and musty inside, but the walls are lined with books.  People leave all kinds of stuff that nobody would ever want to read: cheaply-bound booklets on microwave cooking or computer manuals dating from the late 80s.  Last month, however, I hit the jackpot.  Someone dropped off approximately 30 back issues of Saveur magazine, all from the mid-1990s.

On the cover of one issue, I spotted Neapolitan pizza and knew I had to try it.   I’ve been making flatbread pizza on the grill all summer, but with the time change and the colder weather, I needed a pizza fit for the oven.

This recipe became an instant classic.  The dough is chewy inside, crispy outside, and it requires very little work.  So far, I’ve used it for a basic margarita pizza; basil pesto white pizza; prosciutto and balsamic onion pizza; and (pictured here) andouille sausage, roasted red pepper and artichoke pizza.

So I’m deep in the midst of my mid-90s-Saveur-fest, and what do I discover?  Saveur magazine chose my blog as one of their “Sites We Love”!  I’m so honored, and humbled, and pleased.  Specifically, my lemon-curry roasted chicken was chosen as “Best of the Web,” which is fantastic, since that is, without a doubt, my all-time favorite chicken recipe.  If you haven’t tried it yet, don’t just take my word for it.  Saveur loves it, too.  🙂

After I finished reading the back issues of Saveur, I returned them to the Smokehouse book exchange to ‘pay it forward,’ you might say.  As I placed them back on the shelf, an elderly woman looked over and said, “Oh, were you reading those?”

“Yes!” I said.

“How nice,” she said.  “They came from me.  Though they’re old, I thought someone might like to read them.  They never go out of style.”

How true.

Master Pizza Dough

Adapted from Saveur magazine

Makes 2 12-inch pizzas

1  7-gram packet active dry yeast
1 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1⁄2 cups cake flour
1 tsp. salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄2 cup cornmeal

1. Dissolve yeast in 1⁄4 cup lukewarm water in a large bowl. Set aside until yeast begins to activate (it will foam a little), about 10 minutes. Combine flours and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.

2. Add 1 cup of the flour mixture to yeast and stir well with a wooden spoon or your hands. Mix in 1⁄2 cup water, then add another cup flour mixture and continue to stir. Add remaining 1 cup flour mixture, then gradually stir in about 1⁄4 cup water and mix well. The dough should be fairly soft, but not too wet.

3. Turn out dough on a lightly floured work surface and knead with the heels of your palms until it has a smooth, uniform texture, about 10–12 minutes. Divide dough into 2 even balls. Coat the insides of two medium bowls with 1⁄2 tsp. olive oil each. Place dough in bowls, cover bowls with damp cloths or plastic wrap, and set aside to rise until doubled in bulk, about 2 1⁄2–3 hours.

4. Place pizza stone or unglazed tile in oven and preheat at highest setting (not broil). Sprinkle a baker’s peel or inverted baking sheet with cornmeal. Punch down dough from one bowl, make a ball, and flatten it on the pan. Taking care not to overwork dough, stretch it into a thin 12″ circle with a slightly raised edge. Add Margherita or Marinara toppings and slide onto hot pizza stone.

5. Bake until crust is golden brown and crisp, about 12–15 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare second pizza. Remove first pizza from oven and bake the second on the same stone. Drizzle a little olive oil on each and serve.

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