Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Leftover Parade

Everyone knows how Thanksgiving works, right?

You make too much food.
You eat too much food.
You try to send home too much food with all your guests.
You still have too much food in your refrigerator even after that.

At this point, you either get creative with the leftovers, or you eat them straight up as is, or you throw them away.  Usually, here at Chez Nelson, we go with the second option until we just can't stand it anymore and then we do #3.

This year, though, I've got different ideas.

This is a Sweet Potato and Turkey Pizza.  I made the dough from scratch, rolled it out to a 1/4" thickness, and used the rest of the Savory Garlic Philly Cooking Creme from the galette for the "sauce".  Had I not that, I would have probably gone with a seasoned olive oil brushing on the crust instead.  I don't think traditional tomato-based pizza sauce would go as well.

My father-in-law had brought me some garden-grown sweet potatoes and I diced them up and roasted them in my 375 oven for about 25 minutes until soft.  Then, I sprinkled them and some diced leftover turkey on top of the crust.  Back into the oven (now at 450 degrees) for about 20 minutes until things start getting brown on the top.

The turkey itself is rather flavorless, but that's okay with the sweet potatoes here.  It lends a little texture and substance to the pie, and looking at these pictures, I do wish I'd chopped a little fresh sage leaves up and sprinkled them on here.  That would given a little extra burst of flavor and color.

Some people dig the challenge of chopping down their own Christmas tree, some people thrive on the Black Friday chaos, but me, personally, this is my own private Herculean task: to artfully and uniquely transform leftovers into delicious goodness.  I feel a little like Cinderella's fairy godmother the night before the big ball.

The game is afoot.  The challenge is on.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

And...It Is Done

My alarm went off at seven-thirty this a.m. because it was time to turn this...

into this...

For the record, I should think about employing a professional part-time my 14-year-old who...doesn't really know much about my Nikon.  By the time I remembered to get a picture of a dish, the pan had been cleaned out.  Also, I didn't get a picture of the entire spread...and who doesn't do THAT!?

Keeping that in mind, here's what I did get for photos.

The first picture is what's left of the Spinach-Artichoke Galette.  Along with a vegetable relish tray, taco dip and chips, and deviled eggs, this was part of the first course.

The middle photo is the finished Lemon-Cranberry Bars, with a dusting of powdered sugar.  I think this one is a definite keeper, and I have been mulling over changes I'd make in the future.

The bottom photo is the Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with a Whiskey Caramel Sauce...which has my nomination for Best Dessert of 2013.  The eggy, rich brioche really set the tone, but since that type of bread is difficult to get around here, I'd experiment with other choices.  Also, the recipe calls for Vanilla Bean, but I'd also try something like a Butter Pecan.  However, I'd never use jarred caramel...I'd alwaysalwaysalways make my own for this dessert (did I tell you all I added Toasted Caramel-flavored whiskey?) At any rate, this dessert was so rich and delicious, that I'm going to continue tweaking it and turn into one of *my* desserts.

Based on commentary around me today, the highlights (and lowlights, probably) include:

1. My dad telling me the Cornbread Stuffing was okay, but that he really liked a more traditional, moist (read: mushy) sage stuffing.

2. My very traditional-food-eating brother-in-law raving about the Spinach-Artichoke Galette.

3. My father-in-law and my dad really liking the Bacon-Mustard Mashed Potatoes.

4. My mom and I finishing a bottle of Nouveau.  Nobody else in the whole house (15 of us) drank nary a drop o' alcohol.  It was a little awkward...until I remembered that I didn't care.

5. The creamed corn, lima beans and bacon, squash bisque and all the other unsung heroes of the table today.

6. The Bread Pudding.  Seriously.  You guys don't even know.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

TP-D3: And Now We Drink Verdejo

You know, dear readers, that I love what I'm doing, right?  That I love four afternoons and nights this week of chopping, stirring, baking, mixing, puréeing, boiling, melting, squeezing, zesting, brining, whisking, and combining for tomorrow's Thanksgiving Feast?


Tomorrow will begin early, only because of the turkey, but otherwise, I will be quite at my leisure.  My parents are arriving at 10 a.m., with their huge 12-cup capacity coffeemaker.  My in-laws (parents, two brothers, sister, and three small children) will arrive around 11, and the first courses will begin at 12.

And I will be ready.

Again, I've loved every minute of the prep process.  I've looked forward to coming home, getting out my knives, doing my mise en place, and working my mojo. 

Things are winding down.  For example, today's task list consisted of.

1. Wash all plates and serving dishes and utensils. Dust ceiling fans.  Vacuum.  Sweep.  Mop.  We may live like savages around here for 364 days out of a year, but that 365th day will be as clean and presentable as possible, savvy?

2. Brine the turkey.  Nothing says Happy Thanksgiving more than trapping a naked, whole poultry in a plastic, salty, spicy funhouse.  Good thing s/he's dead.  (To those offended, no apologies.)  We brined our turkey last year, and it worked so well, we did it again.

3. Assembling and baking the Lemon-Cranberry Pie Bars.  This was a first-time recipe, so I ran it the day case things weren't as they seemed (because I am constantly amazed at the amount of recipes published that don't work as the author wrote).  Note to Reader But Mostly To Self: Do not move bars until they are totally, completely, and utterly cool. Like, not until the next day.  They will crack in unseemly ways, otherwise.

4.  Make and chill the Butternut Squash Bisque.  Remember the squash I'd roasted yesterday?  Today, I sautéed some mirepoix and Granny Smith apples with some chiffonaded sage leaves, which I then tossed with the squash and broth before pureeing it up further in my Ninja.  Tomorrow, it will go in my crockpot to warm, and at that time I will add the cream.  And hey, did you know that it is very likely that squash was a dish at the First Thanksgiving?  That's what NPR Radio told me this morning on my morning commute, anyway.  But, I already had squash on the I tried not to be too self-congratulatory.

Puréed squash is so so so so pretty.
5.  Make the cornbread.  This is actually the cornbread for the stuffing, and I used the recipe straight from the Pioneer Woman's website (you'll have to go here).  Surprisingly easily this recipe is, but it calls for 1.) buttermilk and 2.) a cast-iron skillet...which may turn several would-be cornbread bakers away.  I do own a cast-iron skillet (Christmas '12) and I purchased buttermilk, knowing Ma Marcella (this is my mom) is coming to my house tomorrow and she loves the stuff. 

As I began tonight's blog post, I realized I forgot to get a photo of the above cornbread.  Silly me, I must have lost my head.

However, I did not forget to get a picture of this:

Verdejo grape - Grown near Segovia, Spain - I've been there

6.  Drink wine in celebration of finished prep list.  Huzzzah!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving Prep: Day Two

It has been a long day.  And by long I mean on my feet. 

So, my dear mother came over tonight for Day Two Prep...and I will say, she is extremely efficient in the kitchen.  She can multitask like an Olympic acrobat.

1. Make and refrigerated Bacon and Mustard Mashed Potatoes.
2. Thaw brioche for Vanilla Bean Ice Cream Bread Pudding.
3. Make and chill galette dough for Spinach-Artichoke Galette.
4. Roast squash and puree for Butternut Squash Soup.
5. Make cranberry puree for Lemon-Cranberry Bars.
6. Make graham cracker crust for #5.

In short,

1. Make and refrigerated Bacon and Mustard Mashed Potatoes.
2. Thaw brioche for Vanilla Bean Ice Cream Bread Pudding.
3. Make and chill galette dough for Spinach-Artichoke Galette.
4. Roast squash and puree for Butternut Squash Soup.
5. Make cranberry puree for Lemon-Cranberry Bars.
6. Make graham cracker crust for #5.

Tomorrow, school lets out early.  Plenty of time to complete Wednesday's prep list before the big show.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving: Prep Day One

Thanksgiving is a mere three days away.  The food preparation begins now.

The menu planning began four weeks ago, and the to-do list was sorted out two weeks ago.

And now, my mostly American (and one Russian) friends, execution is key.

I must admit, I sort of expected a lot of people to ask me what I'm doing for Thanksgiving.  But surprisingly, not many have.  Don't people want to talk about menus like I do?  Don't people want to know what a chef-in-waiting is going to prepare for, like, the biggest food feast of the year?

No?  Oh, the hubris.   I shall soldier on anyway.

My to-do for tonight included:

1. Make mashed potatoes and freeze.
2. Make cranberry chutney.
3. Make caramel sauce for vanilla bean bread pudding.

But first, the filling of four dozen pumpkin whoopie pies for my son's Boy Scout banquet tomorrow night took precedence, and that set me back 45 minutes.  By my account, Item #1 was the most making mashed potatoes was moved to tomorrow night.

1. Make mashed potatoes and freeze.
2. Make cranberry chutney.
3. Make caramel sauce for vanilla bean bread pudding.

Chutnies and compotes are probably one of the easiest things to make, and not to mention one of the tastiest.  And this year, instead of the typical cranberry-sauce-in-a-can, I opted for a cranberry chutney to top the turkey.  Chutney is a condiment of Indian origin, and it can be fruit or vegetable-based, and usually has a little spicy-ish kick to it.  Now, because my in-laws are coming this year, I left the spice out.

Sauteed shallots and minced garlic, whole cranberries, brown sugar, diced dried apricots, apple cider vinegar, water, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper...all of it simmered down in a thick, chunky mash.  The tart integrity of the cranberry is still intact, but tempered with a savoriness that comes from the shallot and garlic.

1. Make mashed potatoes and freeze.
2. Make cranberry chutney.
3. Make caramel sauce for vanilla bean bread pudding.

The caramel sauce instructions that came with the bread pudding (November edition of Food + Wine, btw) were terrible.  Caramel can be a tricky thing...if you don't keep an eye on it, or have your heat too high, it will burn.  So, my original instructions make these mistakes:

- Cook sugar-water until it turns an amber-caramel color, about 5 minutes ( what temp?  If I have it at medium-high heat, it takes WAY longer than five minutes.  So, I'll turn it up, and boil it...WHOA!  That browning happened fast!)

- Add room temperature cream to hot caramel (Uh.  NO.  Caramel seizes immediately and it becomes impossible to incorporate the two).

Like I should have done before, I refer to my Baking textbook.  Sure enough, the instructions there say I should heat the cream and incorporate a little of it into the hot caramel.  And it worked, boy howdy, I was able to whisk the heck out of it.

The caramel sauce and the cranberry chutney
I think my caramel sauce is a little too light, however, I was VERY nervous about my sugar being too brown.  If I have the time, I may try it again for kicks.

Oh, and, this caramel sauce has about 1/3 cup of Black Velvet Toasted Caramel-flavored whiskey added to it.  So, it's, you know, really caramelly.

My mom is making me add raisins to the bread pudding...and I think I'll soak the raisins in the whiskey before I assemble the dessert.  Ha.  That'll show her.

1. Make mashed potatoes and freeze.
2. Make cranberry chutney.
3. Make caramel sauce for vanilla bean bread pudding.

And as Meatloaf once said, two out of three ain't bad.  Tomorrow night, my mom is coming over to help with Day Two of food prep, and I'm sure we will get a lot done.  If we don't open any wine, that is.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Blog Entry In Which I Apologize For Nothing

A new school term started today, and you know how those first days are...exhausting and uncertain.

All I really wanted after supper tonight was something a little sweet.  A little chocolate, a little dessert, a piece of my kids' Halloween candy...but no, turns out there was nothing.  No chocolate, no banana cream pie, and the candy had long since been run through my kids' digestive and excretory systems.

So, what - I mean, I gotta do everything around here or what?

Necessity is INDEED the mother of invention, because here's what I did.  Toasted a piece of whole wheat bread, buttered and cinnamon-sugared it...then sprinkled it with mini-chocolate chips.

As if that weren't awesome enough, I remembered suddenly that I had a bottle of Port in my wine cooler.

Double booyah!  Port is a sweet, fortified red wine normally produced in Portugal.  It's heavy duty stuff, not for the Boone's Farm drinkers in the crowd...will warm your insides right up in a pinch.  20% alcohol content.  Goes well with strong cheeses, nuts, and chocolate.  Yeah.

How convenient...

So, this is where I do not apologize for the "rustic, nay, crass simpleness" of this post.  Toast, cinnamon-sugar, chocolate chips, and Port wine.  It gives me what I need.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Phone Booth/Clown Car Casserole

*Warning: Post contains references which may make author seem older than she appears.

Who here remembers phone booths?  Not in relation to Doctor Who, but those mostly-glass boxes on street corners that would more often than not have no phone book and a telephone that did not work?  I remember them too, but I never used one because by the time I would have had somebody important to call, they'd gone obsolete (the phone booth, that is.  Not the person I wanted to call).

Apparently, waaay before my time, it was a fad to pack as many people as possible into a phone booth.  It looked something like this:

Photo courtesy of
I can't think of anything I'd rather do less than cram myself (along with 20-30 people I don't know very well and who probably haven't been tested for diseases) into a space that is designed for one person, maybe two, and a decent amount of oxygen.  This here is NOT the choice way I'd spend my crazy college weekend.

But it was the Fifties, so...

While we're discussing cramming, how about the image of clown cars?  You know, about 20 gaily dressed clowns emerging out of a teeny tiny little car?  They just keep coming and coming and coming...right?  Same weird concept.  Random rubbing up awkwardly against people, but this time, they're wearing wigs and garish makeup and huge shoes.

Apply this stuffing/cramming/crowding/overfilling concept to a casserole.  How many random vegetables can one person stuff into a Tater Tot Casserole?  That's the the answer I went in search of earlier this week.

For the record, I could live the rest of my life without eating TTC.  Not that I hate it, but it's just sort not what I'm about anymore, you know?  However, my two sons (14 and 9) love Tater Tot Casserole, and I try to honor their request about every fifth time they ask.  The recipe itself is pretty basic...cream of mushroom soup, milk or sour cream, hamburger, green beans, and tater any mixture/layer/configuration you can think of.  Some recipes I saw online omit the green beans.  Some omit the hamburger.  But none of them dare leave out the tater tots.  The only representative from the vegetable category is the green bean, if it's included, and the tater tot...and that's a stretch.

Obviously, this dish is in need of some renovation, yeah?

On the bottom is a layer of french cut green beans (an entire 1-lb bag).  I grated some carrots and diced onions for a mirepoix of sorts.  Then, Spencer browned these veg and the hamburger while Elliot mixed together a can of cream of mushroom and a cup of homemade pumpkin puree (which I'd done way back - what? - last month?)  That's the orange cast in the mix you're seeing there.

The boys then layered the tots on top.

The males in my house would now be perfectly content to eat this casserole as is.  However, it wasn't enough vegetable for me.  So, I sauteed a bit of garlic with some turnip greens I had in the fridge for a quick little side dish.

Clown Car Stats are as follows:

Original vegetable count: 1 (Green beans - I AM NOT counting the tater tots)
New vegetable count: 4 (Onion, carrots, sweet potatoes, green beans)

The next time I try this, I think I'll go for six...really pack that phone booth.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hump Day Indeed

I have never ever been a fan of referring to Wednesdays as 'Hump Day' for the following reasons:

1. 'Hump' is a weird word that conjures up mostly animalistic imagery for me.  Dogs and rabbits in general.  Don't get me wrong...I don't mind dogs or rabbits or humping.  At all.  I just don't want them associated with the middle of the week.  That's all. 

2. Hump Day seems to imply an action that everyone should be doing, instead of being productive work citizens and contributing to the GNP.  And not humping by a dog or rabbit, but by another member of your species.  That's a lot of pressure.  I mean, some Wednesdays it's just about all I can do to get out of bed and crawl into a hot shower...much less try to hump or get humped.

My own personal linguistic preferences notwithstanding, I had a pretty kick-ass Wednesday.  My fifth term of culinary school ended yesterday, and so us students are on a little end-of-term break until next Monday.  I can't think of the last time I had a weekday off...and my, was it a glorious one!

First, I slept in until 7:10.  It was awesome. 

Other highlights include:

With the exception of an hour's worth of errand-running in the morning, I spent the day in a purple cardigan sweater and flannel lounge pants.  I also did not wear any makeup.  And no, I'm not sorry.

In the kitchen, I did a pot of Bolognese sauce and it was low and slow, and just about the best-tastingest stuff ever.  Also, the youngest boy asked yesterday if we could do a Chocolate-Peanut Butter cupcake recipe he'd seen in one of his sister's magazines.  Of course I said yes.  They turned out lovely and are now in the freezer, to be frosted before visiting friends on Saturday.

I watched "Wedding Crashers".  Because I needed my Vince Vaughn fix, I guess.

My husband took a nice lunch break with me today.

I renewed my membership at Anytime Fitness...because I'm getting tired to doing nothing, you know what I'm saying?  Then, I did 20 minutes on elliptical.

The NaNo 2013 is coming along swimmingly, and I cracked the 32k mark tonight.  I am nowhere near writing The End yet, so I expect to exceed 50,000 words.

I do not have to work or go to school tomorrow, so it looks like the Man and I can stay up a bit late watching and episode or two of The Walking Dead.

Indeed.  Mama said there'd be days like this...and there needs to be more of them!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

That Most Meaningful of Endeavors: Work

Today, I want to talk about work.  My work autobio, more specfically.

With the exception of the months that I birthed my three children and took my subsequent maternity leave, I have been a member of the active labor force since 1999.

I graduated in 1998 with a Bachelor's degree in English and a teaching certification for grades 7-12.  My husband, who'd graduated six months before me (that scoundrel), took a software engineer job at IBM in Rochester, Minnesota...and he who gets the well-paying job first gets to call the shots.

Spencer was born in April of 1999 and I started teaching 7th and 8th grade Reading that fall.  And I taught there through the spring of 2004.  I'd also managed to get my Master's in Education just before Elliot was born in August of 2004.  My plan then was to take a year off from teaching to be with my three children, who at that time were 5, 3, and infant.  That year off lasted until December, when I decided to take a long-term English sub position at the high school (same town as the middle school I taught at).

Then, a Drama/English teaching position opened up at the high school in my hometown, which was four hours away from where we currently lived.  I applied, interviewed, and was passed over...but then I was offered a job as a freshman English teacher as well as the Yearbook/Journalism advisor.  Brent got the okay to telecommute, and in the summer of 2005, we moved back to my hometown.

I taught freshman English and advised the school publications from 2005 to 2009.  Then, an opportunity at William Penn University landed on my doorstep, and I took it.  I was an adjunct instructor there, and I also maintained my Yearbook advisor duties at the high school (no more English).  I did that for two years before leaving the high school scene all together.

During the summers of 2010 and 2011, I did some correspondent writing for my town's local paper.  Basically, I was in the books as a "travel" correspondent.  I took my children to cool, educational places in Iowa, took pictures, and wrote a weekly column about it.

Then, the 2011-2012 school year was spent solely adjuncting at William Penn.  That was the year I made the decision to return to school and enroll in the Culinary Arts program.  In July of 2012, I took a job as "Tasting Room Staff" at Tassel Ridge Winery...and from there, I became the chef on staff.

I would say I've had a lot of experiences, some different jobs.  There's been a lot of work in schools...and so I know first-hand the problems America's educational systems face today.  However, I've always had relatively decent principals as my bosses.  I've never really had a complaint in that department.

So, imagine my amazement as I work now in the private business sector (small business at that) and come across bosses of a different ilk.  Bosses who aren't really held to any ideological philosophy or legislation...bosses who are free to run their businesses how they want.  And I get it - that's the beauty of America, right?  Free enterprise!

But, I've never had to deal with a boss who philosophy I do not understand and whose decisions and words seemed contradictory.  My emotional reaction is to stand up and fight against bosses like that...or quit the job altogether.  Fight or flight, right?

Then, I remember that I've got to think about prudence and wisdom.  Because supposedly *I* am older and wiser and better.

What is the more rational, controlled response? 

And that, friends, is the hard part.  Digging down deep for the controlled, prudent part of myself.  It's hard psychoemotional work, let me tell you...and there are times when I can't help but think, What is this bullshit about?  I guess it's all about growing and learning.

So, then.  A toast.  Here's to lucidity, cogency, judiciousness, and pragmatism!  Huzzah!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Thanksgiving Bruschetta...You Betta!

Today's entry title is brought to you by all those northeasterners who have a strong Jersey accent.

Try it yourself.  Channel your inner Snooku or The Situation or Jonny-B (what happened to real people with real names, eh?) and say the blog title out loud.

Then, you'll get the rhyme.

So, it's November, right?  That means it's National Novel Writing Month (just over 10k words here, btw), not to mention the month of, like, the biggest feast of the year.  The greatest chance for people like myself to showcase our skills, wow the crowds, and dream of being able to modestly address our adoring families and friends with words like, Oh, it was nothing!  I just whipped it together in a couple of hours.   Etc., ad nauseum.

Now is the time to begin planning your Thanksgiving meal menu.  Actually, last month was the time to start planning it, but those days are gone by, and we must focus on the now.

What I've got here is a fun little hors d'oeuvres that totally will appeal to the cranberry lovers in the crowd: Apple-Cranberry Bruschetta (or Crostini - same diff).  I know, bruschetta conjures up images of tomatoes and basil and olive oil.  Except here at Thanksgiving.

Cranberries, by the way, are now available in grocery stock up now!  What you're looking at here above is a cooked compote of whole cranberries, apples, red onion, minced garlic, red wine vinegar, brown sugar, dried basil and oregano (specifics in the recipe listed below).  It boiled, then simmered on the stove...altogether, about 15 minutes.  Then, I cooled it to room temp.  While I waited, I sliced my baguette in nice, thick slices on the bias, brushed them with olive oil, and baked them for about 10 minutes.  A thin layer of goat cheese was spread on the crusty tops before I spooned a bit of the compote on top.  The tartness is tempered by the brown sugar and enhanced by the tang of the goat cheese.  A great first course or addition to the relish/appetizer tray, if I do say.

Apple-Cranberry Bruschetta

1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1 ½ cup Granny Smith apple, chopped
1/4 cup brown sugar (taste during cooking..if too tart, add another 2 Tbsp of brown sugar)
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. water
½ red onion, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. dried basil
1 tsp. oregano
1 5-oz. log goat cheese, softened (which means left out on counter for awhile)
1 8-oz. French baguette


Combine cranberries, apples, sugar, and liquids in medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil. Add onion and garlic and return to the boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until cranberries pop (or soften if using dried).

Remove from heat and transfer to a clean container; add herbs.  Let cool to room temperature.

Cut baguette on the bias into 15 ¾” slices and brush both with oil.  Bake in a 350 oven until toasted (10 minutes).  Spread with a thin layer of the goat cheese and top each slice with the cranberry compote.

Now you go, getta bruschetta!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Things Are Not What They ApPEAR to Be

What is this?

If I had a decent camera on my cell phone, this picture would look like below:


Um. Damn.  Google failed me there.  

I couldn't find a really super-duper professional Glamour Shot of the exact poached pear dessert I did for a pasta dinner Friday night.  Which, now that I think about it, makes me happy...that means not many people out there are doing what I do.

Well, they probably are, but they are a.) not taking pictures or b.) are beyond the first couple of pages of Google hits.

So, let me 'splain.  No, there is too much.  Let me sum up.
(One million spacebucks if you can tell me what movie the above three lines come from)

A firm pear, cored and peeled, poached in a bath of really sweet red wine along with a couple of cinnamon sticks and some vanilla.  I only filled the pot halfway up the pear because I wanted the gradual red fade into the natural pear color.  Then, I whipped up a sabayon sauce with egg yolks, a sweet blush wine, along with a little heat and much hand whipping.  Chocolate cookie crumbs on top of the sabayon and a caramel sauce drizzle on top of the pear...and voila!  A classy dessert for 16.

I'll admit, I'm pretty damn proud of how it turned out.  It's one of those times where what I imagined and what actually happened were similar.

Carry on.