Archive for November, 2011

Per Se, in pictures

Per Se

Last month I spent my 40th birthday eating and drinking my way through New York City. I saw two fantasticmusicals and ate several memorable meals. However, the highlight of the trip was dinner with my husband, sister, brother and sister-in-law at Per Se. We were there for five hours and at least nine courses, plus several bottles of wine. Probably the single standout dish was the one I didn’t photograph—the lobster.

Oysters and "Pearls"--a Per Se signature course

Hudson Valley Moulard Duck Foie Gras

Vegetarian option: "Gnocchi Parisienne" with Tarragon Custard

Herb-Roasted Columbia River Sturgeon

100-Day Dry-Aged American Wagyu Beef

Coconut Sorbet, in my sister's hands

40th birthday desserts: S'mores and cake

Finishing truffles

In preparation for my visit I read “Service Included” by a former Per Se table captain. I likely noticed a few extra touches that would have gone by me otherwise, but it wasn’t crucial to my enjoyment of the night by any means. And, while all of the desserts were good, I think the best was the small house signature cake they brought over for my birthday wish. If you should ever go, get that cake!

Where would you dine if you could go anywhere in the world for your birthday?

Thanksgiving Feast: Lessons Learned

Thanksgiving dinner is over! And it was a success! I hewed closely to the draft menu, and learned a few things about making this particular meal, which I am sharing with you, below:

1)      Cornbread dressing freezes well, and a little goes a long way. I froze the stuffing a week in advance, thawed it in the oven warmer drawer while the turkey roasted, and then heated it the hour before dinner alongside the squash gratin. It turned out great. I had also made one from a box out of fear that I’d run out, but it turns out that lots of people eat stuffing, but not a lot of it. Next time I’ll just make one.

2)      Cornbread dressing goes great with eggs the next day. Heat some up in a skillet, add a few eggs, stir-fry and enjoy!

3)      Butternut squash gratin is delicious. This was the clear winning side dish, with two people asking me for the recipe. I was glad I’d tested out the whipped squash recipe in advance because it was too sweet, and this one was just right.

4)      Lots of people have had Brussels sprouts the wrong way. Sautee or roast them after tossing in oil, salt and pepper. When they caramelize, the bitterness leaves them and they are still crunchy, and oh-so-savory.

5)      Convection roast saves time. I cooked  14 pound turkey in 2.5 hours on the convection roast setting

6)      What to do when your turkey is done early. See #5—I was taken by surprise. I looked online and the best solution was the one from a caterer, IMHO, who advised me to wrap it entirely in foil, then entirely in an old bath towel, then place it in a cooler where it would stay warm and moist for hours. I took it out almost 3 hours later to carve, and it was still steaming and very moist.

7)      Breast-side-down works best, at least for a bit. Since I inadvertently roasted a chicken breast-side down and ate one of the juiciest roasts of my life, I decided I’d roast the turkey breast side for at least the last hour (more like 30 minutes, since the bird cooked so quickly). I think this helped with #6, considerably.

What lessons did you learn from preparing your Thanksgiving meal?

Thanksgiving Menu

The last time I hosted Thanksgiving I was almost full-term with the Energizer Bunny, so I’m pretty psyched to finally have Thanksgiving here when I’m not walking around like a lead balloon. There will be 16 for dinner, including one vegetarian and a few “I may not eat meat that day just ‘cause” for dinner, so I’m including a lot of sides. Here is the draft menu:

Appetizers

Rosemary Spiced Cashews (Barefoot Contessa, Barefoot in Paris)

Olives (Central Market)

Cheese and Crackers (Central Market)

Main Course

Organic Turkey basted with chicken broth, prepped in the most standard way (butter, salt, pepper on the outside. Lemon, Orange, thyme, rosemary, sage on the inside. Hoping to cut the time down a bit by using the convection setting, but not betting on it.

Sides

Cornbread dressing (America’s Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution)

Vegetarian rice stuffing

Brussel Sprouts (Everyday Foods)

Roasted carrots, onion, turnips (some roasted with the bird, some tossed in oil and roasted separately)

Cranberry-Orange_almond sauce (Better Homes’ New Cook Book)

Butternut Squash Gratin

Dessert

Apple Pie my parents are bringing from a restaurant in Columbus, TX we love

Pumpkin Pie guests are bringing

Chocolate Pie guests are bringing

Coffee (with eggnog for cream –so good!)

 

I’m also making a Chocolate Bundt Cake. Our local refugee center is hosting a Thanksgiving lunch for immigrant women and their children who a have left a hostile home environment. My friend Christina is gathering up all the dishes and delivering them on Thursday morning. That one I’ll make today and deliver this afternoon, and it should keep well until Thursday.

What is your menu for Thursday? 

Brunch Staples: My Sister’s Biscotti

When my sister stayed with us after the birth of The Energizer Bunny, she graciously prepared a number of meals for the family. I often asked for the recipes, including the one for these biscotti which have since become a staple for brunches. I have to bake them for an event or a large number of guests, because if I have a lot of it in the house I’ll eat them up. This week, I baked the biscotti for Thanksgiving. We’ll have a large number of family in town, hanging out at the house, and I need to fortify the freezer with baked goods. I may make another batch of Seinfeld Cookies for the kids—these are for the grown-ups.

Brunch Biscotti

Great for: Brunch guests, overnight guests, you

Prep: 10 minutes

Cook: 40-50 minutes

INGREDIENTS

8T Butter

3/4C Sugar

2 Eggs

1T Vanilla

2.5C Flour

1T Baking Powder

8 oz. toasted nuts (I used sliced blanched almonds)

1/2C dried fruit

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Beat the sugar and butter.
  3. Add Eggs and vanilla and blend
  4. Add flour and baking powder and blend
  5. Add nuts and fruit and blend
  6. Shape into logs and place on a nonstick baking sheet.
  7. Bake 25-30 minutes, until firm to the touch. Remove from oven, then remove logs to cutting board.
  8. CSice carefully and return to baking sheet, spacing evenly apart.
  9. Bake another 15-20 minutes.

Makes about 2 dozen biscotti.

Wordless Wednesday: This week’s crop

Peanut Butter Gratitude

November is a time to think about blessings, and I should probably be grateful that no one in our family has a peanut allergy, because peanut butter consumption in our house is high. I’m not alone, either—peanut butter is a favorite food for many kids. It’s also a requested item for most food pantries. And with the cost of peanut butter on the rise, even more needed. Our peanut butter of choice is Skippy Natural with Honey. As the Spitfire can practically live on peanut-butter-and-honey sandwiches, this particular product saves us money–even though it’s slightly more expensive–because I no longer need to also use honey in her sandwiches—if I do, they then become “too honey-filled.” I buy it as a bulk subscription from Amazon and buy plain, natural peanut butter for cooking. And I do cook with it. Peanut butter chicken, peanut butter oatmeal…the list goes on.

One of the kids’ favorite meals is a peanut butter pasta I have been making for more than 15 years. It comes from Vegetarian Express by Nava Atlas and Lillian Kayte (a great resource for quick meals), a birthday gift from my first boss. I can make it in the time it takes to boil pasta, everyone eats it happily, and it’s highly adaptable. (Add tofu. Substitute vegetables. Spice it up or down.) It’s also a great way to introduce whole wheat pasta, since the sauce dominates the flavor.

The original, well-loved recipe

Peanut Butter Spirals with Peas

Great for: Quick family meals, pot lucks with no peanut allergies

Prep: 5 minutes

Cook: 8-10 minutes

Serves: 6

INGREDIENTS

10 Ounces spiral/rotini whole wheat pasta

1/2C peanut butter

3/4C water or vegetable stock

2-3T soy sauce

1-2T white-wine vinegar or rice vinegar

1T honey or rice syrup

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1 1/2 cup frozen green peas, thawed

Optional: Chili oil or Tabasco

 DIRECTIONS

  1. Begin cooking the pasta
  2. Combine the remaining ingredients, except for the peas in a blender or food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until smooth
  3. When the pasta is just about done, toss the peas in to warm them, then drain and transfer them to a large serving bowl. Add the sauce and toss well.

Helpful tip: The peanut butter sauce thickens as it stands. I like it, but you may not.  If the dish sits for a while before serving, or before serving leftovers the next day, mix in more water if the thickened sauce isn’t to your liking.

What is your favorite peanut-butter-based recipe? Share it in the comments.

Seinfeld Cookies

When the Energizer Bunny was a toddler, I checked out Jessica Seinfeld’s cookbook from our library to see if I, too, could be a sneaky chef. I already had a ton of pureed vegetables in ice-cube form in the freezer, and some of her tips were very easy to incorporate, like using carrot or butternut squash puree instead of milk in mac’n’cheese, or melting a cube of frozen spinach puree into pasta sauce. I made several of her recipes and they were hit or miss, so I made copies of the ones I had liked, or wanted to try later, and gave the book back. I came across one of the latter recipes, for chocolate chip cookies, this week and decided to give them a shot.

The result: my kids liked them a lot more than I’d have thought. My son asked me to make them for his birthday party. There are so many chocolate chunks in this recipe that I some ways, the doughy cookie is just a chocolate delivery system. But considering they have just as many chickpeas in them which are basically undetectable, I can live with it. They are very cake-y, and there is no “spread” during baking—it forms exactly as you drop the dough. And yet, I can’t stop eating them.

Chocolate Chip & Chickpea Cookies

Great for: kids

Prep: 10 minutes

Cook: 12 minutes

INGREDIENTS

1C firmly packed light or dark brown sugar

3/4C trans-fat-free soft tub margarine spread or butter (I used Brummel & Brown. Actual Margarine might help the “spread” factor)

2 large egg whites (I used liquid egg white equivalent)

2t pure vanilla extract

15oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (I generally like to remove the “skin” but in this recipe I can’t see that mattering)

2C (12 ozs) semisweet chocolate chips/chunks (You may want to look for fair trade chocolate)

2C all-purpose flour

1/2C old fashioned oats

1t baking soda

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking trays with non-stick parchment (I just used baking spray)
  2. In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the sugar and margarine with a wooden spoon or on medium speed until smooth.
  3. Beat in the egg whites or egg and vanilla, then the chickpeas and chocolate chips.
  4. Add the flour, oats, baking soda and salt and mix on low speed until a thick dough forms.
  5. Drop the dough by the tablespoonful onto the baking sheet, spacing the cookies about 1 inch apart. Flatten slightly with a fork.
  6. Bake for 11-13 minutes, do not overbake. Leave on cookie sheet to cool and then transfer onto wire rack until completely cool.
  7. Store in airtight container for up to 3 days.

By Jessica Seinfeld from Deceptively Delicious

Honestly, this recipe has me thinking I may not to check that cookbook out again, or even buy it. At the least, I need to get back into some of those good habits I had when the kids were toddlers.

Milk at lunch: a black or white issue?

It’s been quite a week in food health research, and it’s only Wednesday! In school lunch news, the New York Times reported that bans on soda in middle school have made virtually no difference in reducing sugary-drink consumption among those students during school hours.

“The study, which looked at thousands of public school students across 40 states, found that removing soda from cafeterias and school vending machines only prompted students to buy sports drinks, sweetened fruit drinks and other sugar-laden beverages instead. In states that banned only soda, students bought and consumed sugary drinks just as frequently at school as their peers in states where there were no bans at all.”

Then, I heard on CNN that a recent study finds fast food purchases increase as consumers rise from lower- to middle-income earners. This finding goes against the conventional wisdom that lower income consumers buy more fast food, contributing significantly to their higher rate of obesity.

“There is a correlation between obesity and lower income, but it cannot be solely attributed to restaurant choice,” Leigh said in a statement. “Fast-food dining is most popular among the middle class, who are less likely to be obese.”

And all of this news is happening during Jamie Oliver’s “Milk Week of Action” challenge, which sets its sights on pressuring schools to take flavored milk off the menu. In light of the news about school soda consumption, I’m wondering how effective this result would be among older children, but I’ve already seen its effectiveness among one sample group: my children.

 

Image courtesy of Food revolution

 

My 4 year old will not drink plain milk. As a baby, he couldn’t digest milk, and so we gave him rice milk until he was two years old. But the switch to milk after he outgrew his intolerance didn’t really “take” like I’d hoped. He gets most of calcium from other sources, but he will drink chocolate milk, which I dilute with skim. I generally feel that it’s better than no milk. However.

This week he started at a new preschool which lets kids buy lunch at the adjacent grade-school cafeteria. All last week he bought a school lunch, and at the end of the week he told me “They only let me buy white milk. And I drink it. And I like it a little bit!” So, for him the lack of choice in the milk department has turned his taste buds around.

The Food Revolution site has a number of ideas for influencing/reducing the milk options at the school your children attend. It can be as simple as writing a letter to the principal, or more involved community action. But only, of course, if you believe that your school should offer only pure milk. What do you think is the best method: milk by any means, or reducing the choice to the healthiest one?  Is it a battle worth fighting? Or, do you think kids will end up consuming the same amount of sugary milk even if it’s removed from elementary schools, the way they do in middle schools? Share your thoughts it he comments, below.

Lentils I have Known

I don’t think I really discovered a taste for lentils until I moved back to Texas and acquired a Moosewood Cookbook—a gift from my vegetarian sister. There are a wealth of lentil-based recipes in there, and I found that I enjoyed them baked, pureed, sautéed—just about any way but raw. I came across a recipe– a contest entry by Jo Irvine of Utah — for a large batch of lentil chili and knew I’d make it during our first cold snap. This recipe makes about 10 cups of chili. If you have a soup swap on your horizon, or need to bring someone a meal, this could be your recipe. There is very little prep involved, and everyone in our house, at least, gives it a thumbs up. It easily adapts to become a vegan chili.

Vegetarian Lentil Chili

Great for: big-batch meals

Prep: 5 minutes

Cook: 35 minutes

INGREDIENTS

4 14.5-oz cans dices tomatoes

1 15-oz cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 12-oz package frozen chopped peppers and 1 12-oz package frozen chopped onions

(My store doesn’t have this so I subbed the same weight in bags of combined frozen peppers and onions and chopped them further)

2C dry red lentils, rinsed and drained

1/4Cchili powder

(I reduced this to 2T, then added back 1T after it was done so it wouldn’t be too spicy for the kids. It wasn’t)

2T garlic powder

1 8-oz can tomato sauce

1 6-oz can tomato sauce

1/8t black pepper

2C shredded Cheddar or Mexican Cheese (4 oz)—or remove it to make it a Vegan meal

DIRECTIONS

  1. In an 8-qt Dutch oven, combine undrained tomatoes, rinsed and drained beans, 3C water, peppers, onions, dry lentils, chili powder, and garlic powder. Bring to a boil; reduce heat; simmer, covered, 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Stir in tomato sauce and paste, and black pepper; heat through.

Serve with shredded cheese and tortilla chips (optional).

Store leftovers, covered, in refrigerator up to 3 days or divide into freezer containers and freeze for up to 3 months.

Love and Best Dishes, Paula

The Texas Book Festival takes place every October here in Austin, and every October I lament my ability to drop my kids at a park and spend the day at the festival. I know, one day in the not-too-distant future I’ll be able to do as I please on any given Saturday, but sometimes the waiting is the hardest part. This year, though, I had a several-hour window of childlessness on Sunday morning and took it as an opportunity to see and hear Paula Deen at one of my favorite Austin venues, the historic Paramount Theater. I was far from the only person with the same thought as this picture of the line to enter, wrapped around the corner and then some, illustrates. (aAd yes, those men are wearing shorts. It’s October in Texas, and we’re still wearing shorts).

Paula’s interviewer was Hugh Acheson (Top Chef Masters!), who took himself pretty seriously, but Paula quickly guided him “down home” for a more grounded conversation. They began talking about Paula’s publishing history, especially her big break, when a Random House publisher dined at her Savannah restaurant and asked for a copy of Paula’s self-published cookbook. The conversation moved onto Southern foods and I’ll share the Paula wit-and-wisdom from this part of the conversation:

  • In the south, we show our love with food. “If you die, your family is going to get a pie. If you have a baby, you are going to get a pie. If you move into our neighborhood, you are going to get a pie.”
  • Hugh: “I want to make Kimchi rice grits.” Paula: “Have you tried salt, pepper and butter? Throw a little cheese in it, honey.”
  • Her son Bobby has a new cooking show that makes her recipes healthier: “I used to say about the Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding, one serving per lifetime. Now, I can have it three times.”
  • “We eat more vegetables in the South than any other region of the country”
  • In the Q&A, when asked about her husband Michael’s favorite meal: “Oxtail, or standing rib roast. Do you know what Michael looks like? He likes a lot of food.”
  • How did food help you with your separation and divorce? “It was because of food that I was able to get my separation and divorce. So, it helped a lot.”

On the more serious side, I was impressed with the women Paula says she modeled herself after. Her Aunt Peggy and her grandmother were her inspirations, and Paula said her grandmother could literally break down a turtle to make the finest bowl of turtle soup. It reminds me to be mindful of cooking and baking with and in the presence of my own kids rather than when they are otherwise occupied, so they might correlate food and family, kitchens and cooking, with family life.

And as bonus, I found out about this dessert blog from my friend Bonnie who I ran into on the way to the line. I am going to make some kick-ass treats.

Are you a Paula Deen fan? I think she’s hilarious, and I really enjoy her children’s cookbooks because they are spiral bound and pre-literacy minded, with incredibly easy recipes that my kids feel confident about following. But, I haven’t bought one of her “grown-up” cookbooks yet. Do you have one you love? Or is Paula not your cup of tea? Leave a comment!

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