Friday, November 27, 2009


As our reduced family (two uncles and a daughter couldn't make it this year) sat around dessert yesterday, I vowed I would remember all the family stories that came up so I could include them in this post today. Naturally, when I woke up this morning, they were all gone from my head. There are psychologists that make a case for forgetfulness. There's the problem of the internet, which saves everything. I have thought about this often-- the value of the ephemeral--and applied it in our lives by not documenting every moment of our children's journey, as American parents do.

So meals like yesterday's become important, when everyone brings the stories out and you compare notes and hone the details. As I write I can't even remember the subjects of the stories. Did we talk about Seng Lim's time on the cruise ship? About moving the shop down the street? Did Uncle Lajos come up? I can't remember.

Nga Jee called from England after dinner, and we described the meal to her. Mary  had made the traditional meal, and described its provenance-- a complete Thanksgiving menu published in the late 70s in the old Betty Crocker magazine Sphere. Mary  and I have been making this meal on Thanksgiving and Christmas (and sometimes both) for more than 20 years. I have the old recipes that Mary wrote out for me long before the kids were born, I finally laminated them.

Turkey with apple-raisin stuffing

1 c. chopped onion
1/2 c. butter
1 quart chopped apples (I use Granny Smiths)
1 c. chopped celery
1/2 c. golden raisins
1/4 c. fresh parsley
1 egg
1/4 c. apple cider
1 1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Saute onion in butter over medium heat until transparent (about 5 minutes); stir in apples and celery, simmer uncovered over medium heat sitrring occasionally (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat, lightly beat egg and stir in, stir in remaining ingredients. Stuff bird. Oops. Find a recipe/instructions for roasting a stuffed turkey. Do that.

World's Best Cranberry Chutney
1 lb cranberries (these used to come in 16 oz bags, now they've reduced bag size to 12 oz, so just deal)
1 cup white sugar
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. golden raisins
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp allspice
1 cup water
1 c. chopped onion
1 c. chopped apple (Granny Smiths)
1/2 c. chopped celery

Simmer cranberries, sugar, raisins and spices in 1 cup water, uncovered, in a saucepan over medium heat, just until the cranberries release their juice (about 15 minutes). Keep heat low, and stir in remaining ingredients. Simmer until it thickens, about 15 minutes. Can be served warm or cold. I think it's best when made the day before and stored in the fridge, then served at room temperature for the actual meal.

Finished up with pumpkin pie, but enough with the pumpkin recipes already.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cranberry sauce

Wonkette : Wonkette’s Actual Awesome Real Cranberry Business

This is how I am going to write all my recipes from now on. (Seriously, this looks delicious)

Posted using ShareThis

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Maybe the cold makes me revert to meat

In my northside Chicago neighborhood, we still have an old-fashioned Centrella butcher in a little free-standing, independently owned grocery store. If it's not the last of its kind, it's close. It's the sort of place where the bag boy knows which car is yours, and the butcher/owner remembers your kids' birthdays.

For most of the time my kids were growing up and I was working downtown full time, we seldom went there, because he's only open during working hours-- 9 to 5 and closed Sunday-- so I was never able to make it. A few years after starting to work at home I had a facepalm moment, duh! I don't have to buy the awful industrial meat at Dominick's anymore. So I periodically do a "meat binge" and rack up the protein meals for a while. His chickens have actual dark meat, you can get fresh, never-frozen turkeys the day before Thanksgiving, ground chuck that you'd swear was ground steak (at half the grocery store price), homemade (by him) sausage, and guaranteed tender pork.

Rosemary pork loin roast with roasted potatoes

Small pork loin roast, boned (the butcher will do this for you)

1/4 cup olive oil
2 T dried rosemary
1 T dried sage
green peppercorns, ground, to taste, or about 1/4 teaspoon
sea salt, to taste, or about 1/2 teaspoon
4 large cloves of garlic

1 large russet potato per diner

Blend the herbs, 2 cloves of the garlic, and oil together. Cut about 6 slits in the roast and insert slices of the remaining garlic cloves. Rub the oil mixture on all sides of the roast. Let sit on the counter 1 to 3 hours.

Heat oven to 450F/230C. Roast the meat for 20 minutes. While it is roasting, cut the potatoes into large chunks (peel or not, personal preference), put them in a pot and bring them to a boil, then drain*. Potatoes should have just started cooking (don't let them cook through). Remove the roast from the hot oven and baste it in its own juices, then add the potatoes to the roasting pan and dot with butter. Turn the oven down to 300/150 and continue cooking, basting meat and potatoes occasionally, until thickest part of roast is 170F/75C. (One source I found recommended 145/62. My thermometer has pork at 170-180. If you're not sure, slice into the meat. Pork should have no red in it or it isn't done.)

Pan gravy

When it's done, transfer the roast and the potatoes to a serving dish, and use the drippings to make pan gravy. Simply put the roasting pan on a burner, add a cup of liquid (broth and/or white wine, or water if you have neither). Bring it to a simmer and scrape the browning off the bottom. Add a pat of butter and simmer till it melts, then strain it. For a thicker gravy, add the butter first, with an equal amount of flour, and heat until it forms a thick paste, then add the liquid and mix thoroughly. Don't worry if it looks lumpy, the lumps will come out when you strain it.

*Starting the potatoes in boiling water helps ensure that they actually finish cooking in the oven rather than getting some raw and some cooked, which is what always happens with me. I think it's genetic, because my mother, wonderful cook though she was, also could not roast potatoes to save her life.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Still had some cranberries left over

Another original recipe, although there are other similar ones on the web (there's probably a web law for this-- if you can think of it, there's already a website).

Porkchops with cranberry gravy

1 pork chop per diner

1 yellow or Vidalia onion, sliced
1 1/2-2 T butter
6 oz fresh cranberries
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup white wine
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
add'l liquid as needed

Season the porkchops by sprinkling salt, pepper and parsley on each side. Let sit about 10 minutes. Over medium heat, melt the butter in a large saucepan, then sear the pork chops on both sides allowing the pan to brown a bit. Add the onions and sauté until they just start to go translucent. Add the cranberries and heat until they start to release their juice (about 5 minutes). Add the white wine and the sugar and cook the liquid down. When the pan starts to sear again, add the broth.

Continue simmering, turning the chops occasionally, adding liquid (water, broth or more wine) as the gravy reduces. Cook until chops are cooked all the way through, about 15 minutes more or less depending on the thickness of the chops.

Serve over egg noodles or fettucini.

With the cheese bread, this was a beautiful holiday meal. If only there had been someone here to share it with me!

Testing for the holidays

I couldn't make the promised cheese crackers because I realized I don't have a full-sized food processor anymore. My 40 year-old antique finally gave up the ghost last winter. Now I've only got the little 3 cup one.

But I've been jonesing for cheesy things lately, so I didn't want to give up on the cheese, not to mention that I have a fridge full of cheese because I thought I'd be making cheese crackers.

We'll be spending Thanksgiving at my brother- and sister-in-law; I'll be using the last of pumpkin palooza to make some recipes from this site as my contribution. In the meantime, I picked up a couple of bags of cranberries earlier in the week to try a cranberry syrup (it's delicious). Only used one bag for the syrup, so I tried my favorite google search today-- recipe: Random Ingredients.

The Random Ingredients of the day were cranberries and cheese. Yes. There are recipes that use both cranberries and cheese. This one looked like the winner:

Cranberry Cheese Bread
from Baking Bits

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
a 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter

3/4 cup fresh orange juice (forgot to get oranges, so I used the cranberry syrup, 3T in a measuring cup, then filled to 3/4 cup total liquid)
2 teaspoons grated orange rind (I used some dried that I had)
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 cup chopped cranberries

Sift dry ingredients. Cut in butter until mixture looks like coarse cornmeal.

Combine orange juice (or whatever), rind, and egg and pour into dry ingredients. Mix just to dampen. Fold in cheese, cranberries and nuts. Pour (BakingBits said "pour" but it was more like "glop." Batter is quite thick.) into greased and floured loaf pan. Bake at 350 for 1 hour or until toothpick in center comes out clean. Cool and store overnight before slicing.

I wish I could take a picture of the smell, because it is indescribably delicious. Ditto the taste. Sweet crust, salty cheese, tangy berries.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A visit from the garden glove fairy

Two gardening posts in a row, sorry! I promise a recipe for cheese crackers sometime in the next couple of days.

Just wanted to put up a plug and a thank you for my blogging buddy MrBrown Thumb, font of much gardening wisdom and nexus for all things gardening on the web. He put up a post last summer asking for pictures of gardeners hands, and the prize would be a pair of gardening gloves. Inasmuch as I was the only one who entered (I had just happened to have taken a picture of my hands in my ratty old gloves that day, haha), so I won.

They're gorgeous. They fit like a dream, they feel like high quality driving gloves and not like any gardening gloves I ever had. So a plug for MrBrown Thumb, thank you to Ethel Gloves for asking him to test them (which is I guess why he had this bounty). Sorry for the fuzzy picture. It is very hard to take a photo with one hand.

MBT, thank you so much!

Can't wait for spring!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bloom Day November

I made a lovely cheddar-broccoli soup last night, but no recipe today. Bloom Day is for flowers.

It's early early morning in a November that's been more like late summer than mid fall. I've been out in the garden in shirtsleeves, and my cool weather crops are loving the warm temperatures and short days. The fall flowers are mostly fading on schedule, but the summer ones are thriving.

Inside, the Strepto and the holiday cactus are exploding with color, but I decided to stay outside in the sun. Plenty of winter bloom days ahead for the stay-at-homes.

A volunteer nicotiana, naturalized to a faded, variegated pink. The originals, planted maybe 12 years ago from flats, were white or dark red.

Dwarf iris. Never bloomed outside of June before.

Broccoli, bolted. The flowers, however, are also edible.

More flowers at my flickr page, and don't forget to go over to May Dreams and see everyone's November blooms!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Just close your eyes and eat it

I may have mentioned before the melting pot that is this one family-- we are Chinese-Greek-Turkish-Swedish-Irish-Americans with possibly a little Russian in there somewhere. Throw in my sister-in-law and you add Polish and Hungarian. So we've always been eclectic eaters; my children were the wonder of my friends when they were little, because they'd try anything.

When my father-in-law was alive we used to go to what I called the Tong Dinners every year. These were annual banquets sponsored by the Chin Family Association. Family Associations were formed by overseas Chinese to cope with the new country, to meet the other immigrants in the area and for business, educational and social purposes.

When my son was about 4, the Association dinner that year was a textbook of Weird Chinese Food, all of which the two shiksa daughters-in-law really had to eat. You just didn't not eat what was put in front of you at these things. And at that particular dinner one of the things they served us was oil sludge.

This actually turned out to be pigs feet in greens, so a little off the Middle American track, but not actually inedible. However, for some reason the overhead lights all had amber bulbs in them, which made the cooked greens look like black, viscous sludge. This dinner is still a family legend. And last night I made a version.

My oil sludge soup was actually inspired by this post over at My Folia, and yes, it looks absolutely horrible, but it tastes delicious, and you don't get much healthier than this.

Schi (Russian Greens Soup)
Greens, about 2 quarts. I used Swiss Chard, Turnip Greens, Lovage, and Salad Burnet
Olive Oil
2 quarts broth (beef, chicken or vegetable)
Onions, daikons, and/or leeks, about 1 cup diced

Trim the stems/spines from the leafy greens; strip the herb greens from the stems. Chop roughly, into strips or bite size.

Crumble or dice and sauté the sausage (I peel the casing off, but that's a personal preference), once it starts to brown, add the onions/daikons/leeks and sauté until they are translucent. Add the greens in handfuls and continue sautéing to reduce the greens. Add olive oil as needed (I used a slightly spicy olive oil that had jalapenos in it).

Add the broth and simmer for an hour. Do not skimp on the simmering because you need to make sure the greens are broken down.

You'll want to play around with spices/herbs in this. I used a home-made fennel-based broth which had quite a strong flavor already, and all my broths are made with salt and peppercorns. I didn't want to overwhelm the cucumber-y flavor of the lovage and the burnet, so I didn't add any other herbs or spices, not even salt.

I'm including a picture of the fresh greens and not the finished soup, because it looks perfectly awful, but it tastes absolutely delicious. If you can get a child to eat this soup, you win parenthood forever.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

An American Icon

I've always liked to make, myself, whatever I can. I've sewn my own jeans for heaven's sake. I've made a men's suit jacket, and winter coats. I pulp pumpkins. I made ginger ale. So homemade jam is no biggie. It's ridiculously easy. The hardest thing about it is remembering to watch the pot so it doesn't burn.

A few weeks ago I made one of my syrups from grapes. I had some red grapes that were going bad, so I just decided to try homemade grape syrup, and it was so delicious. Tasted like grapes. Which gave me the idea to try it with concord grapes.

A real American flavor, concord grapes are a fairly recent cultivar of a native North American species, and the staple of the grade school diet, of course, in the form of grape jelly. It's such a staple of processed food, in fact, that it's easy to dismiss. The absurd purple crayon color, the sweetness, the one-trick pony usage (PBJ!), all serve to make this a homemade item that's easy to over look.

Two days ago I found concord grapes at the local chain market. So I bought 6 pints, which filled a 2 quart pot, and made grape jam.

Homemade concord grape jam

6-8 pints concord grapes, stems removed (don't try to seed them, you can't)
1 1/2 cups sugar (I used white, but I'm betting this would be intense with maple sugar. Use only 1 cup of maple, as it's sweeter than cane)
1/4 cup water

Put the grapes, water and 1/2 cup of sugar in a 2-quart sauce pan, and bring to a light boil. Simmer until the skins break down, then mash it with a potato masher to loosen the seeds. This won't take more than about 10 minutes; maybe less.

To get rid of the seeds, transfer a couple of cups at a time to a food mill with the medium sieve in it (too large a sieve and the seeds will get through, too small and you'll end up milling the seeds). Run it through, scraping the pulp from bottom of the mill into your catch container. Discard or compost the seeds. Once it's all milled, put it back into the sauce pan, and add the rest of the sugar. You should have about 2/3 to 3/4 the volume you started with at this point.

Bring it back to a light boil and reduce it by half, give or take (less reduction will result in a more liquid jam, more reduction for a denser jam). Pour immediately into sterilized jars*, and put in the fridge.

It really is that purple crayon color.

*an easy way to sterilize jars: open them and place them face down on a cookie sheet. Put them in the oven. Set the oven to 300F/150C. When it reaches the full temp, turn it off, then let the jars cool in the oven (takes a couple hours).

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A week's worth of pent-up cooking mojo

After lunch, I started thinking about that big tub of yogurt that I used for my soup garnish, and all those carrots I still have from the garden, and the walnuts that I found. Well, one of the things I've learned is that if you google "recipe: any combination of ingredients", someone has a recipe.

Found this wonderful nutty bread on the Plumpest Peach blog. She credits it to Olive magazine. I've adjusted her metric measures for us diehard avoir-dupois-ists.

Quick carrot and walnut bread

1 1/2 c plain flour
5.8 c whole meal flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
2/3 c grated carrots
handful of walnuts toasted
1 1/4 c low-fat Greek yogurt
1/2 c skim milk

Heat oven to 455 F. Mix the flours, salt and baking soda, then stir in the carrot, walnuts and yogurt, followed by enough milk to make a soft, quite sticky dough. Tip onto a floured surface and form a flat ball, put on a baking sheet, slash the top and bake for 30 minutes until risen and cooked. It'll sound hollow when you tap it.

Back from the dark side

The dark side being tv dinners.

I've never been one to avoid fast food, although prepared food has always somewhat stumped me. Canned soup, okay, although soup is so easy to make, but mashed potatoes or stuffing out of a box? This seems bizarre to me. Although my daughter is a big fan of Kraft Mac and Cheese, but there is a kind of American primal response to it.

But up, at last, from my week-long bout with maybe-the-flu I wanted to cook. Last night I combined the best of both worlds making one of those Asia-in-a-box meals, with my own fresh vegetables and pine nuts. This morning I took my giant stash of fresh parsley (grown from seed, yay me) and dried half, then made a pesto with the other half. Parsley is one of those things that for some reason I hate to buy. It seems like cheating somehow.

Moving on to lunch, I recall my brother's amusing comment that there was a spy in my tomatoes, and thought, hmmm. So here's another Xan original.

Tomato-Apple Soup with leeks and chard

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 pounds ripe tomatoes
3 small apples, peeled and chopped fine
1/2 c. leeks, chopped very fine
3 cups loose of chopped chard (about 9 large leaves)

Place the apples and leeks with the stock in a medium saucepan,simmer. Blanche* and seed the tomatoes and conserve the water. Add the tomato meat to the stock. Run the seeds and skins through a food mill to extract every bit of delicious juice, add to pot. Simmer 30 minutes or more, until all vegetables are completely broken down. Puree (easiest way is with a hand held submersible blender, although you can also use a food processor or blender). Blanche the chard in the conserved water, drain and add to the soup just before serving.

Serve plain or garnish with a dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream.

* This is how you peel tomatoes. Drop each one in boiling water for 15-20 seconds. When it comes out the skin will slip right off, leaving all the meat for eating.

Friday, November 6, 2009

I love the 21st century

I learned my way around the kitchen from my mother, who was a wonderful cook both because of her skill and her adventurousness. I still use most of her pots and utensils, not to mention her spice jars (and in fact I think I still have some of her spices.)

While both my parents embraced the ethnicity-numbing melting pot and post war suburbia, she continued to cook "ethnic" throughout her life. I never even heard of frozen french fries, or knew that real people actually ate green beans baked in canned mushroom soup or put mini marshmallows in salad until I was in college. I remember the day in my junior year when roommate pulled the frozen french fries out of the freezer and spread them on a baking sheet. I asked what they were, and she looked at me like I had two heads (actually, she always looked at me like that, in her safe little suburban worldview I did have two heads.)

Because of this, one of my favorite things to eat as a little girl was tv dinners. The old fashioned Swanson ones in the divided aluminum trays. These were my main experience of "American" food. My mother never made hamburgers-- she made Greek or Swedish meatballs. Forget fried chicken; our chicken was Greek, too, marinated in lemon and oregano. Steaks? Never-- Julia Child's best boeuf bourguignon, but learned, not from Julia, but from her Provençal landlady in Aix after the war. And of course, french fries were, well, fried.

This week, after being sick for several days, I relented on the cooking and told Bill to just buy some canned and frozen meals, and he bought a couple of "tv dinners" multi-culti style. Swanson, move over, this company makes Chicken Tikka-Masala. And it was pretty good.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Roasted root vegetables with swine flu*

Got your attention, didn't it? But I guess that's not halal, so how about Roasted Root Vegetables with Pumpkin krema.

Third day sick in bed with low grade fever bouncing up and down, general malaise, coughy chest, stuffed up head. Thought I might feel better if I got up; at least I wouldn't be so bored, and it worked for a while, unfortunately by the time I was feeling crummy again I had to wait for the vegetables to finish roasting.

*Update: got the test. Doctor's verdict: "It's not swine flu. Unless it is." Test is inconclusive 40% of the time.

However, it was worth the wait. My own invention, inspired by a fridge full of not-goin-to-last-forever harvest and 6 cups of pumpkin puree. This is based on one of my favorite Greek recipes, roasted cauliflower in krema (basically an egg custard). It came out both delicious and one of the most beautiful dishes I've ever made, with deep autumn colors and a wonderful smell.

Roasted Root Vegetables with Pumpkin krema.

2 medium potatoes
1-2 small turnips (1/2 lb. or less total)
4 medium carrots
1/2 cup beets, cut in small chunks
1 cup broccoli florets
1 onion

1/2 cup milk or 1/2 and 1/2
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 egg, beaten
1 cup pumpkin puree
salt to taste

Prepare a 2 qt casserole (spray with cooking spray or butter lightly)

Scald the milk; while it is heating melt the butter in a medium saucepan, brown the flour in it. Don't let the butter burn. Add the scalded milk and remove from heat. Stir quickly; this should immediately form a thick paste. Beat in the egg and then add the pumpkin puree. Set aside.

Cut the vegetables in large chunks, then boil the potatoes, turnips, and carrots until barely al dente and put in the casserole (they'll finish cooking in the oven). Remove from the water (don't drain-- you'll keep using the same water). Blanche the Broccoli, remove from water, add to the casserole. Boil the beets until barely al dente (don't do the beets with other veggies unless you want everything to be pink). Put in the casserole, toss with the pumpkin sauce.

Cover and bake covered for 40 to 60 minutes in 350F/175C oven. Serve as a side dish, or over wilted greens with nuts as a main dish.