Happy New Year!

“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

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On this eve, I raise a glass of thanks to all my readers and bid you best wishes for the new year! I am extremely grateful for such loyal readers and a big thank you for your inspiration and support!

Love,
Chris

A Comforting Vegetarian Casserole For a Chilly Night

Thanksgiving morn. Started out chilly and ended up being in the 50s! The kitchen windows were opened to let out some of the heat!

With the Thanksgiving holiday over but Christmas right around the corner, I find now is the time to delve into lighter meals for dinner. I try to make this time in between the holidays to be about healthy, yet comforting meals. Less on the meat, more on the fruits and vegetables. Your waistline will thank you in April!

A couple of months ago I noticed a picture of a dish in a copy of Eating Well magazine that looked very similar to my own Chris’s Chi-Chi Beans with a few additions. I didn’t bother looking at the recipe, I decided to add those extra ingredients and try it! The dish I created was a warm and comforting vegetarian recipe (and gluten-free, too) that will be good on any night. Plus, it made lots of leftovers for lunches!

“Frost” the top of the casserole with the squash!

Chickpeas and Squash Casserole with Quinoa
I like to have a box or two of frozen squash on hand in the winter. Along with being a quick side dish, I find it utterly comforting; it’s much smoother than I can ever get squash I roast. With no additions, it’s just pure squash and it’s delicious!

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, diced
1 can chickpeas, rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes
1 cup cooked quinoa*
1 package of frozen winter squash, thawed
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium-sized saucepan, warm the olive oil. Sauté the onion, garlic, and carrot until the the carrots are soft and onions soft and translucent. Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, quinoa and stir to combine. Place in a casserole dish and top (or “frost”) with the thawed winter squash. Place in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until you’re ready to serve dinner.

*To cook just one cup of quinoa, add one cup of water to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add ½ cup of quinoa and cook until soft and the water is absorbed.

Cook’s note: When setting some of this aside for my lunch, I thought a dash of cinnamon would be a welcome spice and it was! Just a tiny bit really gave it much more flavor and melded well with the beans and tomatoes.

Thanksgiving Redux

I thought I’d check back with this year’s Thanksgiving recipes. I made four new dishes (including the aforementioned Astor House Rolls), some were repeaters, some not. (For those of you wondering, I chickened (turkeyied? yuck yuck!) out and cooked the stuffing on the side instead in the bird; I didn’t want to take any chances!)

I followed most of my pre-dinner tips, although I skipped making the pie on Wednesday afternoon in favor of seeing “Lincoln” (which was great, by the way). Along the way amongst the many cooking podcasts, websites, and magazines, I also collected a couple more tips to add to my entertaining arsenal!

More tips

• When making pie crust, put the stick of butter in the freezer for a little while and take out your hand grater and grate it like you would cheese or a carrot, thus making small pieces of butter to start making crust! This worked great; I keep butter in the freezer, so my stick took some elbow grease to shave, but it certainly beats chunks of butter that you need to work into the flour. This tip came from Amanda Hesser of Food52.

• Take out the crock pot! With just four burners and an oven, I heard on “America’s Test Kitchen Radio Show” to use your crock pot for whatever needs warming, leaving one more available burner. I decided to do this with mashed potatoes; not wanting to make them at the last minute, I made them the night before with the intention of warming them in the crock pot. I just added a little liquid and they tasted like they were just made!

• Remember the paper towels! Noticing the windows in the November light hadn’t been cleaned in months, I used up most of my paper towel roll and had just a couple of sheets left. Lucky for me, my dad carries them in the car, so we were saved!

Madeira-Sage Turkey Gravy

I thought I was lucky when I snatched a 2012 holiday catalog from Williams-Sonoma. I love perusing and dreaming of all the cookware and they sometimes have recipes interspersed. And this recipe for a dark coffee-colored turkey gravy in a turquoise Dutch oven looked really yummy. Unfortunately, mine wasn’t that dark and the flavor was just ok. But full admission, I made this before the turkey was done, so I didn’t get a lot of pan drippings, probably less than a quarter cup, and it was quite thin. And I found the Madeira was on the strong side. If I make this again, I will definitely follow instructions!

Canal Street’s Cranberry Port Gelée 

If you have a bag of cranberries, some sugar, and ten minutes, then you can make this recipe! This came together quickly, although once you start to serve it, I noticed the “gelée” sort of lost its gel. This was definitely one of the better homemade cranberry sauces I’ve made, with just the right amount of sugar to lose the sourness and bitterness of the cranberries. I used Madeira, since I had it on hand and they said that was a worthy substitute.

Bourbon Pecan Pie

This recipe, from The Essential New York Times Cookbook was the sparkling gem. Frankly, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a bad pecan pie, but this was tops. Just those two tablespoons of bourbon lent just a slight flavor in the rich filling. I’m not sure what happened, but the tart totally collapsed, so my fluted edges sank. It wasn’t particularly pretty, but it was delicious! A definite repeater, but perhaps an ending for a less filling and rich meal!

While delicious, my beautiful fluted crust sank when put in the oven.

 

Thanksgiving Day Tips and a Recipe

I thought I would pop in today since this is the last weekend before the big dinner with some tips and a recipe!

I almost always take the week of Thanksgiving off; for me it is a time to relax, take long walks in whatever daylight may be available, and of course, cook and bake. It’s a little odd to think of preparing for days for just one meal, but I love it. For a few years, I visited my grandmother in New York, with my cousins and other family. Wednesday night was always pizza, the best you’ll ever have. But I did no cooking, so the holiday always felt different. While those days were filled with family and lots of laughter, I also missed preparing and cooking dinner.

Since I refuse to be frazzled when I cook this year’s meal, I’m going back to my own tips for preparing for the big day and thought I would reprint these again for those who may have missed them the first time around. Some of these tips may seem elementary, although to me they make the actual battle of getting everything ready all at once easier. I have to admit, some of these aren’t original, just things I’ve collected through the years that work for me.

• This goes without saying, but prepare some items the day before or even two or three days before. Squash can be made Monday or Tuesday, rolls can be made a week ahead of time and can be frozen until Thursday morning. They can even be made this weekend. Make and bake your pies late Wednesday evening, that way you’re not trying to jockey for space in the oven with your turkey the next day.

• On Wednesday, take out your china and all serving bowls and utensils and assign dishes to each one. This saves a lot on the “what bowl is the stuffing going into?” questions when you have some ravenous people hovering at your elbow in the kitchen. I put the assignments on scraps of paper and place them inside each bowl or plate, which I find helps me immensely the next day. All china and linens also are cleaned and ready to go, so all I have to do Thursday morning is set the table.

• Create a timeline. I take my menu, figured out how long the turkey was going to cook and what I have to do when it comes out of the oven. So I have everything down to the time, “9 a.m., turkey in the oven; at 12:45 see if it’s almost done and start the potatoes” etc. This allows me to easily whisk around the kitchen and allows for everything to be done pretty much at the same time (fingers crossed!). This method also is good for any meal you’re cooking while entertaining, as I have a habit of forgetting things once the door opens and the guests arrive!

• A small, old-fashioned relish plate as an appetizer. So many times I’ve made a couple of appetizers, which fill up your guests before the meal. How about some carrots and celery sticks, a bowl of black olives, and cornchicons? Just a little something light to tide everyone over before dinner. Sliced fennel with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper is another tasty treat.

• Instead of putting all the dishes on the table, finding room among the arms and elbows, I set up the kitchen counter as a buffet, so people can fill their plates and return to an uncluttered table. While it doesn’t paint the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving feast, I find this to be a much nicer way to eat, so you aren’t surrounded by people plus dishes!

• If you want some additional quick recipes, check out Mark Bittman’s fantastic “101 Tips for the Big Day” from the New York Times. This is well worth reading and printing out; I always refer to it this time of year; Bittman is the king of quick tips and simplicity and is always so helpful.

I pulled out my Essential New York Times Cookbook when planning this year’s meal. Since I have some little ones in my life who love bread and any form of it, I thought I’d make some rolls. I love Parker House Rolls, but decided to go with the more aristocratic-sounding Astor House Rolls. I made a test run on these a couple of weeks ago; easy, instructions are crystal clear, and they were really yummy, especially right out of the oven! I was thinking since you put a little bit of butter in the roll before cooking, that some minced garlic and/or herbs would be a nice touch. Next time.

Happy little buns.

Astor House Rolls
From The Essential New York Times Cookbook, by Amanda Hesser, p. 652

1 packet active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
About 6 cups all-purpose flour, or more as needed
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 cups whole milk scalded and cooled to lukewarm
7 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon colt unsalted butter

1. Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water and let stand until foamy. Put 5 cups of flour in a large bowl (you can use a mixer with a dough hook if you want) and make a well in the center. Add the yeast mixture, salt, sugar, softened butter, and milk and stir, slowly incorporating the flour from the sides. Then stir and beat the mixture until a ball of dough has formed. Pour the dough and any remaining flour onto a work surface and gradually knead in the remaining 1 cup flour.

2. Put the dough in a clean bowl, cover, and let rise until light and fluffy and almost doubled.

3. Punch down the dough and knead until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes–you should need very little, if any, extra flour for this step. Return to the bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled in size.

4. Punch down the dough and divide into 22 pieces. Shape each piece into a tight round (see ** at end), keep the other pieces covered with plastic wrap while you work. Beginning with the first round, flatten each roll, seam side up, to 1/2-inch thick. Place 1 teaspoon butter in the center, lift one edge of the dough, and pull it up and over the butter, forming a turnover-shaped roll, and pinch the ends firmly closed to seal in the butter. Arranged rolls 3 inches apart on nonstick baking sheets (or baking sheets covered with parchment). Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until almost doubled, about 1 hour.

5. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

6. Bake until the rolls are puffed, golden, and cooked through, about 16 minutes. Cool on baking racks.

Makes 22 rolls.

Originally published in the New York Times, October 27, 1878: “Useful Hints for Housekeepers.” Recipe signed Lillie.

** To shape rolls, follow the instructions of Nancy Silverton in her book Breads from the La Brea Bakery: “Shape the dough into balls by cupping your hand lightly around the dough and rounding it against the friction of the work surface to form a smooth bun. Begin slowly and increase speed as the ball becomes tighter and smoother. Use as little flour as possible to prevent sticking.”

A Few Tips for the “Big Day”

I’ve been a cook for two and a crowd, as well as  a guest on Thanksgiving Day. A couple of years ago, after a hiatus from cooking Thanksgiving dinner, I had to step it up to plan, organize, and cook a meal for seven. I developed some advice to make each holiday meal a little bit easier and thought I’d share them in advance of Wednesday this week.

Of course, you feel like a juggler to make sure everything goes smoothly; your guests are enjoying themselves with something to drink and a little something to nibble on so they aren’t dying of hunger in the living room, while the cook is in the kitchen, stirring items on four burners and balancing a turkey! Of course, the goal is to have everything–and everyone–ready to go before the meal gets cold. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. But when you sit and relax with a nice glass of wine and a delicious dinner, everything will taste delicious, so in the end it really doesn’t matter!

Some tips may seem elementary, although to me they made the actual battle of getting everything ready at one time much easier than in years past. I have to admit, some of these aren’t original, just things I’ve collected through the years that work for me.

• On Wednesday, take out your china and all serving bowls and utensils and assign dishes to each one. This saved a lot on the “what bowl is the stuffing going into” questions when you have some ravenous people who are hovering in the kitchen and want to eat soon! I made labels of the side dish and put them inside each bowl or plate, which I found helped me out immensely in the long run. All china and the linens were also cleaned and ready to go, so I didn’t have to do with the table anything Thursday morning except set it.

• A time-table. I took my menu, figured out how long the turkey was going to cook, what I had to do when it came out of the oven. So I had everything down to the time, “9 a.m., turkey in the oven; at 12:45 see if it’s almost done and start the potatoes” etc. For me, this allowed me to easily whisk around the kitchen and wasn’t as frazzled as I could have been, and allowed for everything to be done pretty much at the same time. This method also would be good for any meal you’re cooking while entertaining, as I have a habit of kind of forgetting things once the door opens and the guests arrive!

• A small, old-fashioned relish plate as an appetizer. So many times I’ve made a couple of appetizers, which fill up your guests before the big meal and usually aren’t particularly healthy. How about some carrots and celery sticks, a bowl of black olives, and cornchicons? No dip, that would add extra calories and fill you up. This was just a little light something to tide everyone over before dinner. Sliced fennel with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper is another tasty treat.

• This goes without saying, but prepare some items the day before or even two or three days before. Squash can be made Monday or Tuesday, as can rolls, which can be frozen until Thursday morning. Make and bake your pies late Wednesday evening, that way you’re not trying to find space in the oven with your turkey.

• Instead of putting all the dishes on the table, finding room among the arms and elbows, I set up the kitchen table as the buffet table, people could fill their plates and return to an uncluttered table. I found this to be a much nicer to eat, as you weren’t surrounded by people plus dishes!

With all the great tips I’ve cultivated through the years, there is one thing I’m going to continue to work on–being in the kitchen less and enjoying my guests more. I always find when entertaining, as I am always the cook, that I am tucked away in the kitchen, but don’t get to enjoy our guests until dinner time.

If you have any great tips, I’d love to hear them, and add them to my repertoire!

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all! I hope everyone has a glorious meal and something to be thankful for this year!