I live to eat and love to cook. Welcome to my life!

November 30, 2009

What are you thankful for????

So many things, so let me get started!

My family is fairly set in its traditions for Thanksgiving. My moms side of the family shows up the night before or around noon, the football game is on and at approximately 1:00 ish we decide that it is damn near 5:00 in some part of the world.

A bottle of bubbles gets popped and the girls toast to our family and the fact that we are here together and lift our eyes to the sky, raising a glass to my Nana who left us some years ago, but is with us at every family gathering.

I am thankful to have spent as much quality time as I could with my Nana before she passed.

The boys then gather around the counter where we have vodka, Clamato, Tabasco, celery salt, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, Magi seasoning, horseradish, fresh lemons, olives & celery and proceed to make Bloody Mary's in various degrees of preference....extra salty and no vodka for Bapa, no olives for Uncle Jay, tons of horseradish for Brock....you get the point!

I am thankful that my Bapa is with us on every holiday and is as sassy as they day is long. And that he passed on his personality and twinkling eyes to my Uncles Jay & Brian.

In anticipation of a fabulous and very hefty meal, we limit our consumption of appetizers to cheese & crackers, venison sausage from Dad's latest hunting foray and last, but in no way the least as there are usually several bags.....of Puffy Cheetos.

The McKaye branch of the fam just can't have a gathering without these, no person is immune and we are not afraid to fight for the last one. Orange fingertip are a badge of honor and woe to the man (or woman) who brings the crunchy variety instead of the puffy.

I am thankful to whoever the genius is that invented Cheetos, but wish that my Uncles would bring a crispy bag once and a while for mom & me. I am also thankful for my Dad and Brock who know how to bring home the "bacon" or elk or deer for us to snack on!

For dinner this year, Mom opted to try something a little different for our main course and the centerpiece of the meal...instead of doing a brined and baked turkey, she ordered a specialty from cajungrocer.com.

Meet the Tur-duc-hen!

Partially boned out turkey (wings & legs intact), stuffed with a boned out duck, stuffed with a boned out chicken, stuffed with Cajun sausage. Sounds insanely good, right? There isn't anything in there that none of us like, and yet....

It was kind of boring. It lost a lot of liquid and didn't have much flavor in that you could not tell one meat from the other once you cut it up. Plus, there were no good drippings in which to make gravy, so that kind of sucked and we had to fake it. And fake gravy is really not the best kind, Next year we go back to brining the turkey, stuffing butter & herbs under its skin, roasting it and fighting over crispy morsels of turkey skin while waiting for it to be carved.

I am thankful for turkey skin...or duck skin...or chicken skin...as long as it is seasoned and crispy I am thankful. Trying to fit in to my pants afterwards is another story...

The sides, however, are a whole different ballgame!

Butternut squash with sage & brown butter, mashed potatoes (no fanciness here, just good old fluffy taters with butter & milk), Parmesan & Swiss chard stuffing, green beans with a mustard lemon vinaigrette & almonds, cranberry & fig sauce with port and from my friend Sarah, a jar of cranberry apple sauce.

Nothing ostentatious or over the top, just good food, prepared well and enjoyed completely.

I am thankful for my mom who I love to cook with and for friends who cook their tasty recipes and are good enough to share with me.

Dessert was brown sugar pecan cupcakes stuffed with pumpkin custard & frosted with caramel butter cream. My mouth waters just thinking about the butter cream because it is not only caramel which I will go for over chocolate any day, but it is also salty caramel....I can't come up with the words to tell you how good the butter cream is, you just have to hope I make it for you because I can't share this one!

Included in this issue is the Cranberry Fig Relish recipe....Ever since I "inherited" a cranberry sauce recipe from my friend Mandy's mom, I have had way too much fun experimenting on different ways to make that plain old jellied stuff in a can in to something amazing.

I am thankful for my friends....the ones who have contributed in the present or past, been a guest at our table for and the ones who I see rarely, but think of often.
Cranberry & Port Relish with Dried Figs

1-2/3 C Ruby Port
1/4 C Balsamic vinegar
1/4 C (packed) Golden Brown Sugar
8 Dried Black Mission Figs, Stemmed & Chopped
1-6" Long Sprig Fresh Rosemary
1/4 tsp Ground Black Pepper
1-12oz Bag Fresh Cranberries
3/4 C Sugar

Combine first 6 ingredients and bring to a boil, simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the rosemary and add in the cranberries and remaining sugar. Stir over low heat until cranberries have burst and the sauce thickens. Chill until it is time to serve.

I am thankful that I can write this and know that at least a few of you will appreciate it and hopefully try out one of my recipes.

Happy Holidays!

November 19, 2009

Lunch with a friend

Once or twice a month, when the stars are in alignment and the goddess smiles upon us, my best friend Clover and I have the same day off together with no other commitments. This may sound far fetched and exaggerated, but it is altogether and sadly true. Between both of us working in hotels (where weekends are really the middle of our week), her holding another job, family commitments and other random things that keep us busy, we get to hang out fairly often, but it is rare to have a whole day of BFF time where it is just us.

If you have a BFF, and I hope you do, you recognize the value of this as worth it's weight in gold. No interruptions (except that one client who has my cell phone number of course), no time constraints, no agenda and no pressure. I am extremely blessed to have a few of these from various points in my life, from elementary school, high school, college and of course my mom, who I can hardly go a day without talking to.

As it draws near to my favorite holiday of the year, I just want to give thanks to my friends. You are what makes my life awesome and complete.
As Clover and I realized that we had all the time in the world, we decided to get out of our sweet little town and head up the coast to Santa Barbara where a flash of inspiration on a roadside sign led us to the Santa Barbara Zoo. On a mid week day it is about the most relaxing place to meander around and just talk and look at all the cool creatures. Small enough to make the circuit in about 2 hours and still have plenty of time for wine and lunch before going home.

We saw the gibbon eating

And we saw the penguins eating....

And we saw the gorilla eating....

I know you aren't supposed to stare, but I don't think a camera counts, right? Besides the grass is the most appetizing thing this guy was eating!

And then we saw the giraffe eating..... we have no clue WHAT it was eating.

After a full circuit of the zoo decided to get our own sustenance as we had worked up a powerful hunger in our travels.

We drove to the Santa Barbara Pier and parked on it just like a good tourist does.

Found a hidden wine bar on the second floor of the shops at the end of the pier....wine tasted with a sweet young man who had a hefty pouring hand.

Meandered over to Moby Dick's for a little lunch, which was not so memorable. But who cares when you have your BFF, a view of the harbor and ocean, a glass of wine in hand and a beautiful day with the sun shining on you.

After much good conversation we proceeded home and guess what we did????

Naps are just awesome!

Even when the lunch is kind of forgettable, lunch with a friend is really about the person you had lunch with and in my case, they are unforgettable.

Thank you for being my friends, when can we do lunch????

November 17, 2009

Cry Baby Soup

OK really? Refrigerated onions? Don't cut the root end until the very end? Chewing gum? An unlit matchstick under your tongue? Lighting a candle? Bread in your mouth? Carrot up your nose? Cutting underwater? A lit cigarette in your mouth (a la Peg Bundy!) Breathing just through your mouth?

And don't even mention putting on swim goggles while slicing up an onion, it just ain't gonna happen. Although I am assured by my moms best friend from college that it does indeed work for her.

Maybe I am sensitive, but I ALWAYS cry when cutting onions. There are none of the above that have worked for me and believe me, I have tried most of them. Fresh onions, old onions, shallots are especially bad....my eyes tear up and I dab. Then I dab again. Then I use my bicep and sleeve to rub away the tears. Then I rub my knuckles in to my eye sockets to try and alleviate the burning. (Yes, I know this is bad for me and my skin, but like a 3 year old I really don't care). With mascara and tears running down my face I then slap my knife down, wash my hands and run to the bathroom to wipe off the evidence and blow my nose.

Because we all know, crying makes your stupid nose run. Especially in allergy season. Which is year round for me now.

So glad I was home alone for this because truthfully I looked like hell. And if I can't be truthful with you then why am I here?

Oh the lowly onion. You are kind of a pain in the ass to peel. Stinky and sharp when raw (except those few lovely sweet varieties!). Exuding amino acid sulfoxides when we cut you, our eyes well up with tears...I cry....I cry.....

Sorry, momentary lapse in to what I thought might be poetry.

For reals though...the onion is the base for all stocks and broths....the foundation of sauces on every continent...they come in multiple shapes, colors and degrees of stinky & sweet. Yet there are a multitude of ways that onions are prepared to complement or enhance a dish, but only a few where it is the star.

Tonight I made French Onion Soup with Guinness where the onion is the true star of the meal. A nod to a version Brock & I have enjoyed many times in downtown Ventura at Dargans combined with my own culinary idols recipe from her book "How to Cook". Um, that would be Julia just in case you didn't know.

Remember how I have waxed poetic on the virtues of homemade stock????? This is where it comes in to play. No bouillion in the world is going to make this soup taste as good as a homemade stock or broth.

Guinness French Onion Soup

3 Large onions, sliced thin
3 T butter
1 T peanut or vegetable oil
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 T flour
48 oz (6 cups) Beef stock
1-16oz can of Guinness
(They come in 4 packs, drink the rest or serve to your loved one)
Salt to taste

Sourdough bread slices, about 3/4" thick
1/2 C Gruyere Cheese
1/2 C Swiss Cheese

Melt the butter and add oil, add onions and saute on high for 10 minutes until translucent. Add sugar and salt and turn on med/low. Stir often for about 30-45 minutes until brown and caramelized...scrape the bottom of the pan as needed.

**Note & FYI the sugar helps the onions to caramelize...as referenced in the pear bread pudding, sugar + butter = caramel flav-ah = goooooo-ooood!

Add flour when the onions are dark and stir thoroughly. Add 2 cups of stock and stir....add the rest of the stock and stir. Then turn up to a simmer and cook for about an hour.

Toast the bread in the oven, remove and cover with the shredded cheese. Broil until melt-y. Serve the soup topped with the cheesy bread and enjoy! Just like my handsome guy below. :)

**And for the cheap eats tag....if you don't have enough to buy Guinness, just make it all with beef broth or stock. :)

November 9, 2009

Kick ass in the kitchen

Every once and a while I go just a little bit insane and start cooking. And I keep cooking. And then I find something else to cook. And eventually my feet scream at me (because I am barefoot on tile), by upper back seizes on me and I realize 4 hours have gone by in a blink. Then I look around and realize that I have made caramelized pear bread pudding, vanilla pastry cream, homemade caramel sauce, Anaheim chile & tomatillo sauce, I have picked apart a pile of shredded chicken breasts, chopped cilantro & green onion, (these are waiting for the sauce and tortillas for enchiladas sometime this week), made broth from the chicken bones, meringue cookies and somehow managed to whip up a quesadilla for a quick carb boost lunch.

Sometimes it stems from boredom, sometimes because I have had one of my shopping trips to the market where I find something that begs to be made, sometimes I am trying desperately to use up the leftovers in the fridge before they go to waste (hate waste!).

Yesterday was a little of each. I started out with the intention of making the bread pudding to take to friends house for a Sunday night dinner. It started out very simple....I was testing out a new recipe (who better to experiment on than friends???) of Caramelized Pear Bread Pudding....

Caramelized anything = good

Decided to make my homemade caramel sauce to accompany it...then decided it needed pastry cream as well....Forgot to take a picture of the cream, but you get the idea.....

Looked at the leftover egg whites from the pastry cream and had a flash of inspiration from above, I HAD to make Nina's Shaum Torte cookies (also known as meringue cookies to anyone outside my family)....

While cooling the bread pudding, noticed some leftover chicken breasts from a roast chicken that would go perfectly with the chiles, green onions & cilantro that I just happened to pick up at the farmers market on Saturday to make awesome green salsa enchiladas. (recipe to follow another day!)

Then the bones, some carrots, onion, celery went in to a pot for broth to stick in the freezer for the next time I need it...once again, to distracted for picture taking!
You dizzy yet? I certainly was after I came up for air.

Bear in mind that if I was in a commercial kitchen I could have doubled my production, but I live in a condo with a fairly small kitchen (but very nicely renovated). So space is at a minimum both on the counter, the cupboards and the fridge. If you come cook with me, be prepared to dance a little!

Previously I have gone to town on things like duck confit, beef wellington (made the puff pastry from scratch, oh yeah!), vats of tomato sauce soup and stew, salsa, cookies, biscotti....whatever it may be, it generally ends up on friends tables, packed in containers for my Grandpa's dinner or it gets brought to the kitchen counter at work so the ladies in my office can enjoy at their leisure.

I have to say, that when I get in these moods, I do resemble an insane person, but I do kick ass in the kitchen.

Caramelized Pear Bread Pudding

8 Cups Challah Bread cut in 3/4" cubes
6 Eggs
4 Cups Whole Milk
2 oz melted butter
1/2 cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
2 T Ground Cardamom
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon

4 Pears (Bartlet, Bosc, D'Anjou) peeled, cored and sliced 1/8" thick x 1" wide
4 T Butter
1/4 Cup Sugar

Blend eggs, milk, melted butter, sugars & spices together in a bowl, blend very well. Pour over bread and let it soak, stirring gently to thoroughly distribute liquid.
Melt butter and add sugar, stir for a few minutes until the sugar melts. Add pears and stir....there may be some hardened sugar chucks that form, but they will melt again as the pears cook. Stir over medium heat until all liquid is evaporated and the pears are caramelized.
Butter a 13x9 pan and put 1/2 of the bread mixture in the bottom. Dot the center with the pears, distributing evenly and top with remaining bread mixture. Pour any leftover liquid in the pan.

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until set.

Serve with caramel sauce and pastry cream (or whipped cream....or ice cream!)

November 3, 2009

When the man is gone....

I eat what he won't... Hee hee hee!
Can you see me hovering over my counter & stove, chopping, dicing, stirring and concocting???

Brock is definitely what I term a "good eater" he will try anything I (or mom) makes at least once without batting an eye. And trust me, he has tried more new "interesting" items in the time he has been with me that I can count. But if he doesn't like it, he isn't afraid to say so and I just don't make it again, no biggie. If he likes it, it goes in the cookbook with a star next to it or posted here on the old blog just in case I need reminding.

And then here comes hunting season. As the nights get dark earlier and the temperatures drop, my darling man leaves me at night to go hunt the elusive wild pig in the hills of the Ventura foothills. Or takes off on a day trip with his buddies to find quail, dove or duck. Or leaves for multiple days to hunt deer or elk. And then I am what my mom and I term "hunting widows"-ladies left alone at home without their man for a time. Maybe a gruesome term in some respects, but what it really is for us is a time for us girls to relax, unwind, watch a girly movie (or several episodes of Sex & the City), open a good bottle of wine and perhaps make a meal that we love that our spouses don't.

Tonight, after leaving the warm confines of the Ojai Valley, I arrived in a Ventura that was enveloped by fog. A night that just begged for slow cooked, comfort food. A quick stop at the market found beef shanks & beef bones just waiting for me to make them in to something delicious!

As much as I appreciate (and use on occasion) items such as bouillon, pre-made stock or broth, I do find that any time you have even a half an hour to make your own stock or broth, your meal turns out 200% better tasting than if you used a product that has MSG, corn syrup, yellow #5 or mechanically separated chicken (my favorite) or "chicken flavor" in it.

How exactly does one get "chicken flavor" aside from making the stock I would like to know....I wish you could see my visualizations....
I know these things are there for our convenience, but I do try to make my own stock when I have the means and the time, it makes a huge difference.

So quick quick quick...I trim the fat from the package of 2 beef "soup" bones, wash them under cold water, toss them in a sauce pan with 1 peeled chopped carrot, 1 celery stalk and a chopped white onion. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Skim the funk from the surface as it cooks. Strain, remove any fat that is left and wait for the next step. Or freeze in ice cube trays and wait for the next time you need yummy meat flavor. For even MORE meaty flavor (if you have the time), roast the bones at 400" for a half hour-45 minutes until they are crispy and brown and then make the stock.

And now for my delicious beef shank...

When shopping for it, get ones that are well marbled, somewhat smaller and about 1" thick. This recipe makes enough for 2, so now I have lunch for this week, yay!

(2) 4"-5" round beef shanks, bone in (they are cheap too!!!)
2 T flour
1 small fennel (anise) bulb-sliced thin
1 Portobello Mushroom-sliced 1" x 1/4"
1 dozen (ish) pearl onions, ends removed, skinned*
2 garlic cloves, minced
*Easy skinning technique as these guys are a pain in the you know what-sies to skin raw....boil some water (or your stock!) and thrown them in for a few seconds, the skins just slip right off!

Season the shanks with salt & pepper, dredge in flour

Heat 1 T olive oil + 1 T butter and brown the shanks in a medium sized sauce pan, set the meat aside. Add another 1 T olive oil and add veggies, stir until slightly softened.

1 cup red wine
2 cups beef stock (or bouillon if you must) :)
1 T salt

Add meat back in and cover, turn on low/simmer and leave for about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes, uncovered, until meat is pretty tender. Add liquid if needed, but you shouldn't if I have steered you right. :)
Skim off 1/2 cup of liquid and add 2 ice cubes to cool it. Add 2 T flour and whisk until blended. Add this back in to the pot and stir until thickened, season to taste.

Now I should clarify that this totally IS something my darling will eat...but I served it with polenta and broccoli, which he doesn't care for. So next time I make this, I will make sure to serve it with pasta or gnocchi and a big old salad, now that I know this recipe kicks ass.

On another note, in regard to meal cost....I know that many of use are not as comfy as we used to be "considering the economy" (blech!). This is a meal that I think cost me all of $10 and served 2 people. The beef shanks were $4, the bones $.98, the broccolini $3 and everything else I actually had in my house as what I consider staples. Cuts of meat like this are more affordable and often way more flavorful than pricey cuts and you can do a whole heck of a lot with the veggies that are hanging out in your crisper drawer. Sub the polenta for the bag of pasta in your pantry and you are good to go.

Any questions, feel free to email me. :)