Archive | November 2011

Calling for Emergency Leftovers

Colder weather is on the way here in the south.  Snow/Rain/Ice mix expected.

This off again on again cold and warm weather has reaked havoc on my sinuses. Fortunately, my troubles held off through Thanksgiving. The day after, it hit hard. I felt like someone kicked me in the head. I couldn’t even use the excuse “it was the wine”.   Feeling better today but not up to par. Being that we didn’t have serious Thanksgiving leftovers due to everyone getting second helpings, I decided to retrieve the emergency leftovers.

Yes…I call them emergency leftovers. These are the food items one makes extra of and freezes for times when you don’t have time to cook or feel bad or actually get too sick to cook for the family.

In my case??? I feel pretty good in fact but… I have this obsession with drippy noses.  I can’t prepare food when I have to blow my nose.  Despite that I wash my hands, it’s just a thing I have.  I. won’t. cook.   Hence the reason I’m a home chef not a professional.  A restaurant most go on because a pro chef has a huge debt to pay.  I, a home chef, can reach into the freezer and pull out an “emergency leftover.”

To start, I did in fact stick my carcass in a stock pot.  That is…my turkey carcass.

While I do have the broth and meaty pieces from the carcass, I’ve not added ingredients to it such as…celery, carrots, etc.  Later, when I don’t have a drippy nose, I’ll do that.  In the meantime, the stock with meat pieces is in the freezer.  I’ll thaw it later, add the ingredients and maybe have soup then or re-freeze for that emergency leftover day.

Today though…I’m thinking….Cream of Chicken Soup.

A lot of people are intimidated by pastry; pie pastry particularly.  One does not have to have “Pot Pie” to enjoy the comforts of cream of chicken soup. Don’t get me wrong, “Pot Pie” looks and tastes scrumptiously comforting.  In this particular case  (drippy nose syndrome) I just ladle over toast or biscuits. Or eat without bread. Add crackers if you like.  It doesn’t matter. The point is there is no need to handle raw dough.

My make ahead recipe is… Boil three to five boneless chicken breasts for about eight minutes. (I buy in bulk when Kroger’s has them on sale)  I then remove from the pot and cut into chunks.  At this time, I could let cool and freeze.   I generally open two cans of cream of celery soup and two cans of cream of chicken soup and pour  into a pan. Add one cup of water, the chicken chunks.  Bring soup to a boil then simmer a minute or two.  At this time proceed with other ingredients or let cool divide soup into containers allowing for two cups per person and freeze. This amount of chicken and soup makes for six to eight people.  Be sure to write the date on the container.

When ready to cook…add      1 ½ cups of frozen peas and carrots, teaspoon of celery seed, salt and pepper to taste.  One could add celery and carrots but when you don’t have it (or in my case drippy nose), the celery seed makes up for lack of celery and… frozen vegetables are a good substitute.

I learned from my mother, when you use something from your pantry write it down on the grocery list, then and there. Always replinish and stay stocked for those times you don’t have time or have a (drippy nose)and don’t want to handle food with your hands.

Stay warm and embrace whatever wintry mix you get.

Preparing for the Big Day

I read recently in one of the many food magazines published that Thanksgiving was the single day most devoted to food. Judging by the thousands upon thousands of blogs published on foodblogs.com or foodgawker, tastespotting, etc., I believe Thanksgiving is the day of food.

Here it is the day before and I am preparing food ahead just to make my day a little easier so that I can enjoy visiting family.

I’ve seen many blogs on various dressings to be served with Turkey.  This is stale leftover bread I’m slicing. My mother would start saving leftover bread, biscuits and cornbread and put in the freezer weeks ahead of time.  Then, the day before, the bread is brought out to thaw, cut up and toast in the oven in preparation of mixing celery, scallions, herbs and chicken stock.

After this, the pumpkin pies and mince meat pies would be prepared.  I decided to deviate and make just a pumpkin custard.  It seems that my family considers this over pie. I’ll also have baked my oatmeal raisin cookies along with chocolate chip cookies and brownies that can be snacked on over the weekend. Oh, yes…the fam stays the weekend.

I’ll prepare the onion soup as I make tomato basil soup for tonight’s dinner.

As for the turkey… it is always fresh, never frozen.  I learned a long time ago a distinct difference with flavor in fresh vs frozen and have never gone back.  The turkey is staying cold in the cooler on the back porch.  I’ll use the same cooler for the brining solution I’ll prepare tonight before going to bed.  The turkey will soak in the brine for about 10 to 12 hours.

Brunch in the morning will be light…scramble some eggs and have ham and biscuits.

The 14lb. turkey will take 2 1/2 hours and will be moist and flavorful all because of the brining done beforehand.  I don’t stuff the turkey anymore because it adds time to roasting which causes the breast meat to dry out.

While the turkey is roasting, I’ll prepare the collard greens, dressing, and an apple/pear salad. Alan will make the giblet gravy.

Mise en place…it is essential to be organized for a stress free Thanksgiving.  If the cook is stressed, the family can’t enjoy the day.

I wish for anyone who reads this blog entry a safe holiday.

Sweet Potato Biscuits With a Savory Taste of Amber Colored Sweetness

This is truly a southern tradition, Sweet Potato Biscuits and… if you’ve ever been in North Georgia or other areas of the Appalachian Region, then you know these biscuits or plain biscuits are enjoyed most with yet another southern tradition, Sorghum Syrup. A thick, amber colored sweetener introduced in the Appalachians in the 1850’s. Sorghum cane is only harvested in the fall and made available in specialty markets or fall festivals.

…back to the biscuits

I had the privilege of meeting and documenting Rebecca Lang as she demonstrated her southern dish at the recent Taste of Atlanta Festival. Rebecca is a contributing editor to Southern Living Magazine and myrecipes.com as well as author of several books including her newest “quick-fix southern”.

Rebecca’s Sweet Potato Biscuits were the first recipe I had to try from her cookbook. Even though Rebecca’s recipe calls for the use of baby food for convenience, (her book is about saving time) I already had sweet potatoes and decided I would use them instead.

Sweet Potatoes are a staple in my home, used in many meals.

…back to the biscuits

It has been a while since I made biscuits from scratch. When my husband and I became empty nesters, we changed, altered the way we ate. While visiting my mother some years ago, she pulled out a bag of frozen biscuits made by Pillsbury. I was shocked and when I asked why the change, Momma responded, “they’re good and saves me the trouble of making them”. Then, going through a down time in my life (as everyone does) my brother, wife and friends came for a weekend visit. I decided to buy a package of frozen biscuits as opposed to making them from scratch. Funny thing, before everyone came downstairs for breakfast, I had the biscuits ready for the oven and starting the sausage. They didn’t know I had not made them from scratch as they witnessed in visits past so the secret was mine.

I never used a food processor for making bread products so following Rebecca’s recipe, I decided I would try. My only problem with using it was the metal blade. It was difficult to clean off the doughy mixture afterwards. It was nice, however to pull out my grandmother’s rolling pin as it has been idle for some time now.

Who knows, now that the holidays are approaching, I just might start the biscuit making process again. I had forgotten the simplicity of combining dough and butter. I’ll keep a frozen package just in case I run into time constraints with all the family coming for the holidays.

I won’t rule out using a food processor for bread prepping because I’ve used it many times in other food prepping but I sure could use suggestions on easy cleanup of the blade.

With regards to the Sweet Potato Biscuits…I’ll just use that common phrase “I bet you can’t eat just one”.

Following is Rebecca Lang’s recipe with my changes:

1/2 cup buttermilk
2 (6-ounce) jars sweet potato baby food. (I boiled three large sweet potatoes and extracted 12 ounces)
4 cups Southern All-Purpose Flour, plus more for the counter and your hands (I used Gen’l Mills All-Purpose flour)
2 Tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Stir together the buttermilk and sweet potato or jar food in a small bowl and set aside.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and butter in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse 7 times or until the butter is cut into very small pieces.

Add the buttermilk/sweet potato mixture and process until the dough comes together, about 15 seconds.

Sprinkle some flour on the countertop. Turn the dough out onto the floured counter. Flour your hands well and pat the dough to about 3/4 thick.

Cut the biscuits with a floured 3-inch round cutter. Flour the cutter again before cutting each biscuit. Place the biscuits about 1 inch apart, on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 16 to 18 minutes, or until slightly browned.

For more information on Rebecca Lang’s Southern All Purpose Flour, refer to her new book quick-fix southern, homemade hospitality in 30 minutes or less.

Cooler Temps Designates the Comforts of Warm Soup

It may not be bitter cold today in North Georgia but windy, gusty conditions with temps in the low 40’s makes this the prime time for a bowl of Tomato Basil Soup.

If you have been following my blog recently, you will have read my recent entries of my opportunity to stand on stage and photograph great Chefs of Atlanta along with celebrity Chef Aarón Sanchez of Food Network Series “Chopped” during the weekend festival of Taste of Atlanta.

L-R, Chefs Suzanne, Tina, Tom and Jeffrey(Chopped Contestants) with Sanchez

Several of the Chefs demonstrating throughout the weekend festival cooked tomato based dishes using canned tomatoes since technically locally grown fresh tomatoes were out of season. This was the end of October.  The first time I saw canned tomatoes used by a celebrity chef was while watching Food Network’s own Chef Anne Burrell.   While tomatoes are always in abundance 365 days a year, the fact is, they’ve been in storage or they come from very far away and not the same as fresh locally grown.

A good substitute is a can of San Marzano.  However, San Marzano is hard to find in local grocery stores.  If one wants to drive a distance to specialty markets, then they will find San Marzano.  In my opinion, having tried San Marzano, an even better substitute is Muir Glen brand tomatoes.  They can be found in any grocery store chain in the organic section of the store.

Muir Glen is a collaboration of organic tomato farmers located in Petaluma, California, Sonoma County.  While San Marzano plum tomatoes grow in Naples, Italy, perhaps organically, I find Muir Glen more flavorful.  In fact, I’ve all be stopped using fresh tomatoes in all my tomato based dishes because I can not achieve the scrumptious flavor in that of Muir Glen.   I know this sounds like an advertisement for Muir Glen but I can’t emphasize my love of their tomatoes.

I always use my grandmother’s Iron Pot for soups, chili and pot roasts. Maybe a stainless steel pot would work but I’ve never tried it.

This recipe is the easiest and fastest way to serve up a dinner in less than 20 minutes prep and cooking time.
Serve soup with toasted Gruyere Cheese sandwiches for an additional WOW! factor or any cheese will do.
The soup makes a great side dish to any dinner entrée.

Serves four to six people depending on being used as the entrée or as a side dish.

Ingredients

A good amount of Olive Oil drizzled on the bottom of the pot
One Large can (28oz) Tomatoes
One quart (32oz) Beef Broth
One medium yellow,sweet onion, sliced thinly
One clove Garlic, minced
1/4 cup red wine (Alternative – Marsala)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Chiffonade of Basil to top off the soup

Slice onions and mince garlic. In a hot pot, drizzle olive oil then sauté onions until lightly browned. Add minced garlic to cook less than 20 seconds. (Cooking garlic over this amount of time will ruin any dish) Add broth and tomatoes. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 10 -15 minutes. Just before serving add wine for additional flavor. Salt and Pepper to taste.

Pumpkin Pie and Martha Stewart


Many year’s ago, pre-incarceration, I went through a Martha Stewart phase. No one knew this secret about me. I was…a closet Martha fan. Domesticity was frowned upon by Women’s Lib groups. I owned all Martha’s books and secretly subscribed to Martha Stewart Living Magazine. I was a full-time stay at home Mom. What else was I suppose to do? Play tennis? Right… As soon as the kids were in school, I would quickly complete a chore or two maybe run an errand and by 10am I would rush to my favorite chair and cozy up with a cup of tea, obviously sipped from fine china as only Martha would do.  I would watch for one solid hour all that Martha could perform from digging in the dirt, whipping up some dessert, to sewing slip covers for her divan located inside the alcove of the widow’s walk atop her home at Turkey Hill. I was green with envy over her garden and loved her oh so organized kitchen and pantry. One must understand my thought process. I didn’t watch soap operas so I justified my daily dose of Martha Stewart as though I was watching a “How To” program on PBS.

While Julia Child was actually my mentor in the kitchen, it was Martha Stewart who gave reason to my existence. I soon began collecting things like…butter pats, knife rests, salt and pepper wells with the tiniest of spoons to scoop the seasonings out. I couldn’t wait to have the extended family in for that old-fashioned holiday dinner. I had so many decorations, it would take weeks to set up and months to take down. I started early, cooking and baking, preparing for the big feast. I was giddy with Christmas music, singing along with Johnnie Mathis, The Carpenter’s and Bing Crosby.

I copied a recipe for pumpkin pie from Martha’s magazine. Never before had I seen pie made from pumpkins. Even as far back as my grandmother. I only remember pie from a can. Who knew? Martha made it look so easy. Just cut the pie pumpkins, scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff, bake in the oven, scoop the meaty part out into a bowl, purée it and add a host of ingredients to the now cooked, puréed pumpkin and bake it again. “and while the pie is baking, don’t forget to roast the seeds for a delicious, fun snack for the children”.

A few weeks ago was my son and daughter’s birthday and they asked for pumpkin pie. At that time, pie pumpkins were not in the store so I opted for the can of pumpkin pie mix. But this week, I happened upon the pie pumpkins and decided to re-live the old days and bake pumpkin pie the Martha Stewart way. Suddenly, the memories began flooding my mind when I took the knife and started to cut into the first pumpkin. It was gripping to say the least. Scooping the interior stringy junk was no better…and those seeds. Ugh! I flossed, rinsed with mouthwash and an hour later, those crappy little kernels were still rolling around my mouth.

Despite my efforts, I was determined to make this pie from scratch only I discovered I had not bought pie shells and since pastry and I don’t get along well, I decided on pumpkin custard.

Note the Gerber spoons.  These small dishes are for my grandsons.  They told me to write that the custard was delicious.

So here is my take…I wasn’t able to locate Martha’s recipe unless I googled it but I did find deep in a box my own recipe for whatever my reason was for not repeating Martha’s recipe. There must have been something she included in the ingredients list that didn’t suit me. As I do with anyone’s recipe, I generally alter to suit my needs or taste.

In the end, I do remember that my children preferred the pie mix from a can over my recipe from scratch. I was satisfied with that. The same amount of ingredients come with the can as they do with the pumpkins. While I consider it important to experience “from scratch”, I  think, when the subject tastes near the same with less work, go for it. After all, Martha only sleeps four hours a night. She has the time, the help and the money to not only grow the pumpkins, but send employees out to harvest the pumpkins and someone to bake the pumpkin pie or in her case pies for all the people she forces to sit at her table in front of the camera.

My variation of pumpkin “custard” from scratch.

Preheat oven to 425° F

Ingredients:
Two pie pumpkins which lends three (3) cups pumpkin mixture
One cup sugar
1½ tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cloves *A substitute for spices is 3 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
½ tsp. ginger
½ tsp. vanilla
4 large eggs, beaten
12 oz. Can of Evaporated Milk

Cut in half the pumpkins. Clean out seeds and stringy material, using an ice cream scoop if you have one, Place halved pumpkins on cookie sheet. Drizzle olive oil on inside pumpkin to moisten. Bake in the oven for approximately one hour. Check each half with a fork for tenderness and remove any halves done.
Prepare an 8×8 glass baking dish by smoothing butter on interior sides and bottom.
Scoop out pumpkin from outer shell and place in a bowl or blender. Purée using a hand mixer or the blender. If you used a blender pour mixture into a bowl.
Add dry ingredients. *Note substitute for cinnamon, cloves and ginger.
Stir by hand to blend dry and wet ingredients.
Add vanilla, beaten eggs and evaporated milk, stirring as you add same.

Pour into prepared baking dish. Bake for 15 minutes at 425°F then reduce heat to 350°F and continue baking for 45-50 minutes. Use a toothpick to test for doneness.

Whip Cream

Pour a half pint container of Heavy Whipping Cream into a mixer. Whip on high-speed. When beginning to solidify, add 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar and 1/4 tsp. vanilla. Continue whipping until peaks form.

Spoon custard into a bowl, top with whip cream and sprinkle cinnamon over whip cream.