Monday, November 18, 2013

A Homemade Thanksgiving: 2013 Menu

When I started working on my menu, my theme for this year was a Homemade Thanksgiving. However, as I was reviewing how this menu is different than last year's menu, I realized that we already consistently celebrate a homemade Thanksgiving. The only thing I didn’t make from scratch last year was the dinner rolls, which I’ll be remedying this year.

I suppose a better theme this year is A Traditional Thanksgiving: A New Way. I’m trying lots of new recipes. This can be a little risky, but I think I’ve planned enough food that even with some duds, we’ll still have plenty to eat.

I realize this is a lot of food for our group of five, but we all love leftovers. I think Andrew looks forward to sweet potatoes for breakfast and the ultimate Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich all year!

Since really getting going on the meal planning and prep, I'm finding myself hungry all of the time! My friend Rosie sent me her menu this afternoon, and she's going all out, like usual. We are planning a Skype date with another one of our friends to talk menus. It's pretty much all Thanksgiving, all the time on my mind these days.
2013 Thanksgiving Menu Chez MeghAndrew

Gorgonzola + fig terrine

Blood orange French 75  

Green apple and celery salad with mustard vinaigrette
Turkey + Gravy
Apple, sausage, parsnip stuffing with fresh sage
Veggie Sides
Brussels sprouts hash with caramelized shallots
Andrew's sweet potatoes
Mashed potatoes with garlic, mascarpone and caramelized leeks
Broccolini with smoked paprika, almonds and garlic
Herb and cheese poppers
Parker House rolls
Apple pie with cheddar cheese crust
Pecan and chocolate tart with bourbon whipped crème fraîche
I'll post recipes for the hits after I try these out. I did make the herb and cheese poppers yesterday to freeze. I baked a few of them just to try them out, and they are so good!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Thanksgiving Scenes

I'm planning our 2013 menu and found these scenes from Thanksgiving 2012 almost buried in iPhoto. Menu is here.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Holiday Appetizers

Here are two of my favorite holiday appetizers for entertaining or bringing to a party. One light and one heavy. (You can also see some of my other favorite holiday appetizers here.)

Light appetizer of choice:


Creamy Beet Dip with White Crudités

Who doesn't love a good dip? My friend Marla brought this for Thanksgiving last year, and I plan to make it again this year. Not only is it very pretty and stunning on a holiday table, I loved the tanginess from the vinegar and sour cream matched against the sweetness of the beets. She served it with cauliflower, endive and fennel for dipping. Serve in a white bowl with the crudités on a white platter for an extra bold look. 

2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
2 medium beets (1 pound), peeled and coarsely shredded on a box grater (2 1/2 cups)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/4 cups sour cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until just softened, about 2 minutes. Add the beets and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add 3/4 cup of water and bring to a boil. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beets are just tender, about 5 minutes. Add the vinegar and honey and cook uncovered over high heat, stirring frequently, until the liquid has evaporated completely and the beets are very tender and dry, about 6 minutes longer.

Scrape the beet mixture onto a large plate and let cool. Fold in the sour cream and season with salt and pepper.

MAKE AHEAD The beet dip can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. SERVE WITH Cauliflower, endive, celery, fennel, toasted baguette slices and pita chips.

Heavy appetizer of choice:

Superbowl baked brie

Baked Brie with Apricot Preserves and Almonds

Always, always a hit and ridiculously easy to put together.  You can also customize it to the occasion. I like to make cut-outs with the extra puff pastry and place them on top. I've made Christmas trees and stars and even footballs and helmets for the Superbowl party. If you're hosting, it's fun to delegate this dish to someone who can have the chance to be creative! Depending on the size of your party, you can do a whole wheel of brie or a triangle shaped chunk. 

Just noticed Lola's snout down there trying to worm her way into some puff pastry

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed according to package directions
2-3 Tbsp apricot preserves (or more if you prefer)
3-4 Tbsp slivered almonds, toasted
1 wheel or triangle shaped piece of brie
1 egg + 1 tsp water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Make an egg wash by lightly beating the egg with a tsp of water.

Lightly flour a work surface and unfold the puff pastry. Using a rolling pin, gently roll out the pastry to about 1/8" thick. Spread half of the apricot preserves in the middle of the pastry in the shape of the piece of brie. Sprinkle with half the almonds. Place the brie on top and spread the remaining apricot preserves and almonds on top of the cheese.

Fold the puff pastry over the cheese to form a sealed crust all around the cheese. Trim any extra pastry and set aside. Glue the pastry shut with the egg wash. (Dip you finger in the egg wash, shake off any extra and gently run it across the edge of the pastry you want to seal shut. Press the pastry shut with your fingers to seal it.)

Place the pastry seam side down in a shallow oven save serving dish or bowl.

Optional but highly recommended: Use the pastry scraps that you trimmed away to make festive shapes. Decorate the top of the pastry.

Using a pastry brush, brush the entire pastry with egg wash. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown. Don't over bake or your cheese will ooze out the sides and become dried out. Let stand for 30 minutes to an hour before cutting into it. (This is extremely difficult, but you will be happy you've waited. If you cut in too soon, the brie will be very runny making it difficult for people to serve themselves. A runny brie also doesn't make for a very pretty dish.) Serve with toasted baguette.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lessons from Culinary Class

There’s still a ton to learn, but I wanted to capture some of the lessons from the first ten weeks of culinary class. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I like to find lots of lessons in my hobbies. (See breakdowns and therapy on the slopes parts 1 and 2, meditation in the kitchen, slowing down on the River, thoughts on being a paradise people, etc.)

So, here we go!


Lessons from Culinary Class

Priorities are a choice. Before I started class, one of my concerns was finding the time for it. We had class, homework, quizzes, reading, and volunteer hours. A couple of months ago, I read one of Chris Guillebeau’s email’s about life’s priorities in which he encouraged readers to change their language so that instead of saying “I don’t have time for that,” you say, “That’s not a priority for me.” Try it. It’s pretty powerful. I’ve been using it lots lately, and I’ve got to say (as cheesy as it sounds), it has changed my approach to life. I’ve learned that my schedule will make time for something I love doing when I prioritize it. I normally hate the phrase “carving out time” when referring to schedules, but once I prioritized taking class, I really did carve out the time in what I thought was an already packed schedule. It wasn’t that difficult after all because it was for something I really love doing.

Being busier = More quality time with Andrew. This sounds counterintuitive, but the truth is that when we have all of our evenings free to do whatever we want, we usually end up not really appreciating them. I had a photography teacher in high school who was fed up with unproductive students and started marking W for wasted days in his grade book if he didn’t think we had spent enough time working on our projects. (Hello, Midwestern work ethic!) As you can imagine, that was never really a problem for me because I loved being productive and work, work, working. But I hadn’t even realized that Andrew and I were spending a lot of wasted evenings together. Don’t get me wrong, I love an evening sitting on the couch in front of the fire watching House of Cards or Master Chef. But not every evening. I found myself feeling busy with things that aren’t priorities for me. Once I had two evenings a week tied up and the other evenings busy with acupuncture, going to the gym and happy hours with friends (clearly this will always be a priority!), we started spending more quality time together because it was more limited. Our time together feels more special. We are more engaged with each other. When we do get a night together, it’s such a treat and we are excited.

I do not have one passion. I am passionate about cooking and I have passion for it, but it’s not my only passion. I have lots of things that I love and feel passion for, but I don’t think I’ll ever be the type of person who can describe something as my passion. I’ve always had a hard time with this because there have been times when I’ve felt unfocused or like I’m missing out on something because I can’t identify my passion. I have so many interests and skills that are varied, and what I have learned is that I am passionate about trying new things, challenging myself, and pursuing things that are interesting to me. That’s my passion. I can get excited about a lot of things, and that’s a good thing.

The world of food is full of possibilities. Going to culinary school can lead to so many opportunities. Usually when people say things like, “You can do all sorts of things with this degree,” I roll my eyes because I want specifics. I already have a general degree that I can do all sorts of stuff with, and I’m looking for something more narrow. But, being a chef is a little too narrow. Since starting class ten weeks ago, I’ve come across a ton of opportunities, which include being a chef, yes, but also teaching elementary school kids cooking lessons, developing food policy and planning for Santa Fe’s food future and writing about food. There’s also several business ideas floating around in my head.

The chef’s world feels kind of like Downton Abby. From my extremely limited experience, the field seems to be male-dominated and very loyal to a hierarchy that they call the kitchen brigade. My chef instructor, while explaining this brigade, went through the various roles and then he said, “and of course, the dishwashers are at the bottom. They have to be at the bottom.” Um, hello, a kitchen can’t run without dish washing! While volunteering at a fundraiser a few weeks ago, I was ignored by the professional chefs - full on ignored when I said hello - and as they chatted amongst themselves, I felt invisible. It didn’t help that all of the food preparation was behind big black curtains in the back of the room and between the seams I caught glimpses of people I know from my other life like commissioners, former governor’s staff, classmates from graduate school. Also, Ally McGraw was speaking, and all I could do was peek out from behind the curtain and try not to be seen. I kind of wished I was on the other side of the curtain with the people I know and who will at least acknowledge me. It’s a rough transition to go downstairs...

More knowledge + more practice = Even higher standards. My already high standards for food and restaurant meals have only gotten higher. I was worried this would happen, and of course, it has. Armed with a wider vocabulary and knowledge about techniques, preparation, presentation and most of all flavor, I am more discerning than ever. I think it’s a good thing so I’ll leave it at that!

Good food is best enjoyed when it’s part of a full, pleasurable experience. At the end of each class, we can plate our food and eat it. Sounds pretty great, right? I didn’t think so at all. The last thing I want to do is eat food, no matter how good it is, while standing up in a hot, busy kitchen while the dishwasher is going in back and you’re tidying up your station. It’s unpleasant, and it seriously detracts from the pleasure of eating. My partner always wanted to plate our food and then sit out in the lobby at a quiet table to eat. At first, I was annoyed with her because I wanted to just get straight to cleaning up and doing our dishes. I often found myself going home with my boxed up meals, and when Andrew asked how it tasted, I would reply that I hadn’t even eaten any of the finished product. So, I started joining my partner in the lobby, chatting while eating and actually enjoying what we had cooked. It wasn’t perfect because we still had to hurry so we could start cleaning, but it sure was better than standing at a table gobbling down my food.

As cheesy as it sounds, cook with your heart and trust yourself. I think that following recipes is a great way to learn and expand, but there comes a time when you just need to trust yourself. There were several nights in class when I knew that if I was at home, I would do something differently or use different ingredients or ratios, but I felt tied to the recipes, which in my opinion were not all that stellar. I felt like my results were mixed and my food was fine, but nothing like what I cook at home. About two thirds through the class, I realized that an intuitive understanding and technique will yield much better results than strictly following the recipes. I already knew this, I just needed to trust myself more.

The love and joy and parts of yourself that you put into a dish are reflected on the plate. I have no doubt about this. You as a cook are represented on the plate. I usually cook at home and alone, but being surrounding by lots of other cooks from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences made me realize that I do have a certain style and characteristics to my cooking. My background, my preferences, all the meals that I've eaten over the years (especially the really, really amazing ones), my experiences, all the parts of me - they all shape how I cook and my food.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Farmers Market Breakfast: Poached Eggs with Wilted Beet Greens and Caramelized Onions

This is one of my favorite breakfasts. Simple and perfect, and if you stop by the farmers market on Saturday morning, local too. Serve with home fries on the side and fresh bread.

It is worth noting that this breakfast is entirely Andrew's influence. Beet greens are one of those things I never tried until I met Andrew. I remember when he first mentioned sautéing up some beet greens for breakfast several years ago and not really knowing what to expect. Beet greens for breakfast? They were a popular breakfast ticket at his house growing up, and it turns out I can't get enough of them. I use the actual beets for beet ravioli or beet salad with apples and oranges. I plan to use the ones I currently have in my fridge for this raw beet and arugula salad with goat cheese medallions that I've been wanting to try.

Poached Eggs with Wilted Beet Greens and Caramelized Onions 

Beet greens from 3-4 beets, washed well
1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
4 eggs
1 Tablespoon olive oil

Heat olive oil over medium-low heat in a large, heavy skillet. Add onion, sprinkle with salt and cook until deep golden brown, stirring occasionally.

Remove beet green leaves from stems and coarsely chop. Set aside. Chop stalks.

When the onions are almost finished, add the beet green stalks and sauté until tender. Add the coarsely chopped beet green leaves and wilt. Turn down heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, get ready to poach your eggs. Smitten Kitchen has a good tutorial on the ins and outs of egg poaching. Heat a few inches of water in a pot, add a splash of vinegar. Heat the water until just before a simmer - you don't want it boiling. Poach the eggs.

Serve poached eggs on top of a bed of the beet greens and caramelized onions.

Serves 2.

I highly recommend serving home fries on the side.

Home Fries

1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch cubes
4 tablespoons salted butter
1 onion, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Seasoning of your choice: Garlic powder or salt work great, as does smoky Spanish paprika or chopped chives

Arrange potatoes in large microwave-safe bowl, top with 1 tablespoon butter, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Microwave on high until edges of potatoes begin to soften, 5 to 7 minutes, shaking bowl (without removing plastic) to redistribute potatoes halfway through cooking.

Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened and golden brown, about 6 minutes. Transfer to small bowl.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in now-empty skillet over medium heat. Add potatoes and pack down with spatula. Cook, without moving, until underside of potatoes is brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn potatoes, pack down again, and continue to cook until well browned and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking, stirring potatoes every few minutes, until crusty and golden on all sides, 9 to 12 minutes. Stir in onion, seasonings of your choice and salt and pepper to taste.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Happy, Happy Birthday Carrot Cake

Carrot cake, old Sherlock Holmes movies and a fire.

My sweet husband turned 34 this week. Happy, happy darling! Boof, long life, happy living.

As has become a birthday tradition at our house, we celebrate with carrot cake. Andrew loves carrot cake, and it's a good way to use up carrots from the garden. Just look at how happy he was when I made this cake for the first time for his birthday a few years ago.

This certainly isn’t the prettiest cake to look at and my terrible photography skills don’t help anything, but trust me it is delish! The carrots, pineapple and coconut make this cake nice and moist, and because it is full of carrots, you can tell yourself it’s healthy. It can be served with or without the frosting, but for occasions like birthdays, we always go with the frosting! More than one person has told me that this is the best carrot cake they’ve ever had.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese-Lemon Frosting

1/3 cup dried finely shredded unsweetened coconut
About 1 pound fresh carrots, peeled and hand shredded
1 cup chopped pineapple
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 cups cane sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dark-brown sugar
3/4 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts or pecans (optional)
Zest of 1 lemon (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 8-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper (to ensure that the cake will not stick), or place liners in 2 muffin pans for 24 cupcakes. Set aside.
Place the dried coconut in a cup of warm water to soften and set it aside for 15 minutes.
Place the carrots in a food processor and pulse on and off for 1 minute. Then add the pineapple and pulse until the carrots are cut into very small pieces and the pineapple is pureed, 1 to 2 minutes.
In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Add the brown sugar and use a whisk to break up any lumps.
Drain the coconut and place it in a medium bowl. Add the oil, vanilla extract, eggs, and carrot-pineapple mixture, and whisk to combine.
Add the wet ingredients into the dry, mixing with a rubber spatula to incorporate but not overmix. When the batter is almost mixed, stir in the nuts and lemon zest, if using. Pour the batter into the prepared pans.
Bake for 55 minutes, or until the tops are a very golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. (It may look as if the cake is too well done, but it takes a while to bake because it's so dense.) For cupcakes, the baking time is 35 to 40 minutes.
Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Then invert them onto a wire rack and let them cool completely.

Cream Cheese Lemon Zest Frosting

Two 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream cheese and butter on medium-high speed until combined and airy, about 2 minutes. Mix in the lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla.
With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the sifted powdered sugar into the frosting.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. If the frosting seems too soft to spread, allow it to chill for 15 minutes in the refrigerator.
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