About Me

I have been cooking my way through life for over 50 years, beginning with mud pies as a child. I've turned a corner now and feel a Renaissance in my life. Recipes and Random Thoughts is my personal spin in a blog about how to prepare good food and how it prepares you for life. I want to share with you, honest to goodness food punctuated with perspective from the special memories and moments that have marked my journey.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Butternut Squash Soup

Tonight we're invited over to friends for turkey sandwiches following Thanksgiving and a day of frantic shopping.  I'm bringing butternut squash soup to round out the meal. Just the right blend of herbs, spice and a splash of cream make this a fall favorite.  The secret to any great soup is fresh homemade stock but another trick is to strain off the juices whenever you roast a chicken. Then chill the juices and scape off the fat.  The remaining essence resembles gelatin.  I freeze this in ice cube portions for a handy way to enhance flavor in soups and sauces.  Process the soup in batches (or use a stick blender) to give it a velvety smooth texture.  Garnish with chopped sage or chives.

2-3 lbs. peeled, seeded butternut squash cut into small cubes
1 medium onion diced
2 tbls. unsalted butter
1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp freshly cracked white pepper
1 quart chicken stock
1 sprig of sage
1 whole garlic clove
2 tbls heavy cream
salt to taste

Microwave the squash in a large glass bowl covered with plastic wrap for 5 minutes or until squash cubes are tender and easily pierced with a knife. Coarsely mash the squash with a potato masher.
In a heavy dutch oven, heat butter over medium heat and add onions. Cook stirring frequently until translucent. Add the thyme and cook a minute longer. Add the squash and mix with onions.  Pour in the chicken stock, add the garlic clove, sage sprig, white pepper and grated nutmeg .  Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer 20-30 minutes.  Turn the heat off and let soup sit covered for 1 hour.  Remove the whole garlic clove and sage sprigs.  Adjust seasoning.  Puree in batches. Return to clean pot and heat to simmer.  Add cream and heat just before serving.  Freezes well.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Salted Caramel Pie

If there's a choice between chocolate and caramel, I'm the odd person who picks caramel.  I love chocolate but if given a choice, I'll opt for a caramel, butterscotch or brown sugar confection.  I think it has something to do with being a redhead.  Recently, I had Grand Jury duty and spent most of my service reading magazines in the jurors' lounge where I found this recipe in Food & Wine magazine.
It's decadent and "easy as pie" and was my contribution to our family Thanksgiving.

For the pie crust;

1 14/ cups graham cracker crumbs
4 tbls unsalted butter melted
1/4 cup light brown sugar

Process the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and brown sugar until all are moistened.  Press into a 9 inch glass or metal pie plate. Bake 10 mins. at 350 degrees. Remove from oven and cool.

Increase heat to 425 degrees.

For the caramel filling:

2 14 oz cans sweetened condensed milk
Fleur de Sel

Scrape condensed milk into a 9 x 13 inch glass baking dish.  Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp fleur de sel.  Cover tightly with foil.  Place in a roasting pan and add hot water to the roasting pan to 1/3 of the way up the baking dish.  Bake 2 hours, lifting foil and stirring 2 or 3 times until golden and thick. Don't worry if it's not smooth. Add more hot water to pan if necessary.  Scrape caramel into the pie crust.  Cover with plastic wrap sprayed with cooking spray directly onto the caramel.  Refrigerate at least 4 hours.  Take out of the refrigerator an hour before serving and top with the following.

For the topping:

2 cups whipping cream
2 tbls powdered sugar

Combine and whip with an electric mixer until soft peaks form.  Spread over caramel filling. Garnish with Fleur de Sel.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Turkey Time Meatloaf

I've learned to love turkey meatloaf!  It used to leave me wanting flavor and a texture that didn't  make me think wall paper paste was an ingredient.  I've tried numerous varieties of  meatloaf recipes over 36 years and have honed down a few that meet my standards.  The recent popularity of turkey meatloaf has puzzled me.  Thanks to Cooks Illustrated, I've adapted their ingredients to the turkey version. You just can't make a turkey meatloaf  pull even to a beef, pork, veal mix without cheating. It takes everything but the kitchen sink. Yes, this is complicated, but I think worth the time and effort.  Note the clean up is easy with the foil covered rack.

You need five elements:

1: Flavor - Use 96% lean ground turkey and add flavor with onion, green pepper, garlic, smoked paprika, soy sauce, Worcestershire  and tomato sauce; salt & pepper  The real secret is to add a little fat back with grated cheese, I like Monterey Jack.
2. Texture - I like Panko bread crumbs to ward off the pastiness.  Crushed saltines are a good second.  I've tried oatmeal, stale corn bread crumbs, rice and others.  The binder needs to absorb without leaving its' fingerprint.  You should taste the meat not the binder.
3. Body - Egg and a little unflavored gelatin.  The egg is traditional the gelatin replaces veal's gelatinous nature. Providing a way for the meatloaf to drain as it cooks takes a little extra prep work but make such a difference.  Also, letting the meatloaf cool a few minutes before slicing ensures it will hold its shape when served.
4. Proportion - Very, very important. Don't just throw the ingredients together, follow the recipe. This is not a dump all in a bowl and mix up. It's done in steps, so be patient.
5. Compliment - A great meatloaf can stand on its own, but a gravy, ketchup based glaze or, my favorite, tomato - onion jam is a great finishing touch.

1 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped green pepper
2 tbls canola oil
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp dried thyme
1 garlic clove pressed

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium/low heat.  Add onions and green pepper and cook stirring occasionally for 2 minutes.  Add the smoked paprika and continue to cook a few more minutes. Add the garlic and cook 30 more seconds,  Remove mixture from heat and allow to cool.

Cover a cooling rack top and bottom with aluminum foil. Fold the edges tightly together, then poke holes in the top layer to allow drainage. Spray top with cooking spray. Place rack on a cooking sheet.

In a medium bowl:

1 8oz can of tomato sauce
2 eggs beaten
1 tbls Worcester Sauce
1 tbls soy sauce
1tsp unflavored gelatin
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
1 tbls chopped fresh flat leaf Italian Parsley
Mix the tomato sauce, Worcester & Soy together, then sprinkle the gelatin over allow to bloom a few minutes the add the beaten egg and chopped parsley.
In a large bowl, mix:

 1 1/2 lbs 96% lean ground turkey with
 1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt

Now, combine with the meat mixture, in order:
-the cooled vegetables and paprika and mix, then add
- the sauce mixture, and mix
* I mix with my hands in latex gloves.

Pack the mixture into a 9x5 loaf pan and smooth the top. Then turn the loaf onto the foil covered rack and smooth edges. Bake @350 degrees for 1 hour or until a meat thermomether registers 160 degrees at the center.
Allow meat loaf to cool 10 minutes before slicing.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Green Goddess Salad Dressing

Sometimes I've just got to have a change from vinagrette.  I have a variety of vinegars in my pantry, but every now and then, I give into a richer mayo based dressing.  This Green Goddess is loaded with lots of what my husband calls "green things"  and it's another incidence when I've got too many fresh herbs around and things like buttermilk that need to be used up.  And, yes, I do keep anchovies in my pantry.  They give a distinct but subtle flavor if used correctly.

1 cup mayonaise
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup buttermilk
3 tbls chopped tarragon
3 tbls chopped chives
1 tbls chopped dill
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf Italian parsley
1 tbls tarragon vinegar
2 anchovie filets
1 garlic clove chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Put all ingredients in the food processor and process about 1 min.
Keeps in refrigerator 1 week.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Food Network Competitions - "Chopped" Should be Stopped

I usually enjoy watching the Food Network programs that feature a chef personality cooking.  I learn something and get new ideas, but these competition shows are getting on my nerves.  Cupcake Wars and the like are pretty ridiculous.  Chopped is the worst.  The premise is simple, the professional chef contestants get a basket of several odd ingredients and must whip something up in 30 minutes and serve it to a panel of snooty judges.  It's similar to Iron Chef but the ingredients are more peculiar and there's little chance of making restaurant quality fare.  After several rounds, one chef wins $10,000 for producing the least offensive concoctions.

I really was horrified to see one poor female contestant open her basket containing a rattlesnake.  It was skinned and beheaded but a shocker to her and myself.  She recoiled in horror, shaking, unable, for a bit, to gather her thoughts and handle the snake, losing valuable time. You could tell she wanted to run off the set and was on the verge of tears.  The snooty judges pronounced her dish "terrible".  Well, it's exactly what they deserved if you ask me. How often do you see rattlesnake on a menu.  Those things will kill you! In my state, surprising someone with a rattlesnake is called "Redneck Justice" not a cooking ingredient. My husband claims to have eaten rattlesnake at camp when he was a kid and I'm sure certain cultures find snake acceptable but, I do not.  I thought it was a dirty trick and  rushed to my computer to protest on their web site but there's no "Contact Us" to click onto. So, I'm chopping Chopped from my TV viewing.

I keep a pretty well stocked larder and frig but, occasionally, I'm faced with what can I make out of what's available.  Coming back home from a two week trip at midnight and scrounging around in the kitchen can present a challenge.  More likely, I spot several items that are about to go bad and try to use them in something creative (see my Banana-Peach Bread), and that's kind of fun.  I made zucchini boats last night with prosciutto, bread crumbs and Parmesan because all those items had been in the frig long enough. Drizzle with a little olive oil - not bad. Who can afford to waste food these days?

Come on Food Network, show us something better!