Dec. 18, 2020: Catching Up & Planning Ahead

A slice of cranberry-walnut tea bread

Catching Up

We have two weeks’ worth of cooking on which to catch up. Granted, that first week, I was careful, and limited in what I could eat in preparation for surgery.

I usually celebrate multiple winter holidays over the season, with a variety of decorations and food. This year, because of my surgery, I did not manage to celebrate Hanukkah, and I missed it. I also miss celebrating it with my friends from New York who always included me in their celebrations.

Next year, I hope things are on a more even keel, so I can include it as part of my winter holidays celebrations. I often joke that I start celebrating on Halloween (Samhain) and go through until Twelfth Night. Only it’s not really a joke.

Holiday Cookie Baking

If you’re interested in the history and culture of Christmas cookies (which, in my case, have morphed into holiday cookies), Culturally Ours has a wonderful piece on it here.

I baked cookies in a different order this year – I usually start with the Tollhouse, prep the Molasses Spice and let them chill while I do the oatmeal lace and then the orange-cranberry. Then I bake the molasses spice and bake whatever that year’s specialty cookie is, and then the centerpiece cupcakes or mini cakes. I usually do all of it over one or two days.

This year, I did it a little differently. The PLAN was to bake the week I was in isolation, but I was too exhausted and worried to do that.

Instead, I pushed too hard and baked the two days AFTER the surgery. Although I got it all done, I pushed too hard.

orange cranberry cookie

Saturday, I baked 10 dozen orange cranberry cookies from The Cape Cod Cookbook, and 9 dozen currant-oatmeal-lace cookies from The New Basics Cookbook. That about did me in. But those recipes I’ve done for years, and are second nature. The orange cranberry cookies use powdered sugar, and are soft, like a sand cookie. They came out very well this year, even better than usual. I also baked a cranberry-walnut tea bread from The New England Cookbook (one of my favorites). That came out well. I figured, since I was prepping cranberries anyway in the food processor, why not prep a few more and make the bread?

oatmeal currant lace cookies

Sunday, I prepped the dough to chill for the Molasses Spice Cookies (from a Bon Appetit recipe that turns out to be by Dorie Greenspan) and the Chocolate Crinkle cookie that I decided to try from Betty Crocker’s Best Christmas, a very old book I happen to love, because the recipes are simple and consistent.

Tollhouse cookies

While they chilled, I rested, then did my 10 dozen Tollhouse cookies before taking the dough out of the fridge to do the others. I chilled the molasses spice dough for only a few hours instead of overnight, as I usually do, and the dough was much easier to work with.

I do not put nuts into my Tollhouse cookies, because so many people are allergic or don’t like nuts. So, they’re really chocolate chip cookies, but they’re good.

molasses spice cookies

The Molasses Spice came out well. I used a smaller ball to roll the little dough balls. I have a particular highball glass that is the exact right size and shape to squash and twist the dough balls down, so they bake into lovely circles. I make the cookies smaller than the recipe calls for, and, instead of getting only 24 large cookies out of the batch, I get nearly double that in small cookies. Otherwise, I couldn’t bake the amount I need in the allotted time. But they are my favorite. I should bake them at other times of the year, too!

chocolate crinkle cookies

I did what one should not with the Chocolate Crinkle – I did not bake a test batch. Instead, I dived into baking for the gifts right away.

And I screwed up. An acquaintance says I shouldn’t admit my screwups here, but I hope you learn from my mistakes.

I was tired, suffering from brain fog, and had not done a test batch back in the months when I should have (mostly because I wasn’t planning on doing this cookie until about a week ago). And I made a mistake.

I mis-read the recipe and put baking soda into the cookie instead of baking powder. Why does this matter? Because baking powder contains the acidic agent in it to start the chemical reaction necessary, and baking soda does not, so one needs to add it.

I didn’t realize it until after the dough was mixed and in the fridge.

According to the internet research, it was going to taste bitter and awful. Oh, well, then I’d toss them and start over.

I looked at the tollhouse recipe – that has baking soda and no acidic agent, and that always tastes just fine. That’s because of the chocolate chips. Cocoa powder has an acidic agent in it. Although chips are made differently, when they’re real, there’s still actual chocolate in them. I used baker’s chocolate (melted) as the recipe called for, and it must have had enough to balance out the mistake. In other words, I lucked out with the chemistry, but be careful when the recipe calls for baking soda or baking powder.

The cookies came out great. There’s nothing wrong with them. They’re not bitter at all – even using bittersweet chocolate. Next time I do this recipe, though, I’m going to add in a little peppermint extract and see what that does. And use baking powder, properly.

This weekend, I’m packing the cookies in their individual sleeves and putting together some of the tins. Masked, of course.

I was masked while baking, just to be sure everything stayed safe and sterile, and that was an interesting experiment. Absolutely do-able, but changes a few things, like how one tastes as one goes. Tasting has to happen away from the mixing bowl.

Also, so many of these recipes rely on touch. One rolls the dough balls in sugar, one shapes the cookies, one handles dough – true of bread, too. When we’re making recipes just for us, no problem, but I’m aware that some people, this year, will not be comfortable with that, even with all the decontamination and deep cleaning protocols we use, and I won’t put them in a position where they will feel uncomfortable. Granted, some of them wouldn’t nod and smile and then dispose of the gift elsewhere – they’d just be rude about not accepting it, so I’m saving myself frustration as well.

I’m still going to do a batch of bourbon balls just for us – I made them last year for the first time (another Betty Crocker recipe) and they were delicious.

Planning Ahead

I won’t be posting on either Christmas Day or New Year’s Day. After years of working in theatre where I worked nights, weekends, and holidays, I am finally allowed to take holidays off and I am. Not even scheduling a regular post, just a greeting.

Winter Solstice

I don’t really have a traditional meal that I serve for the Winter Solstice. I serve different things on different years, whether it’s smothered pork chops or chicken pot pie or chicken with dumplings.

I think I will make pappardelle pasta with pancetta and peas in Alfredo sauce. While I’ve had trouble eating pork in the past few months, pancetta and prosciutto haven’t been a problem.

I considered making a fruit and nut roll in pastry – since I couldn’t get the fruit peel for my fruitcake cookies and went with chocolate crackle cookies instead, I have pecans and dates left over. However, there’s also a recipe for Grand Marnier chocolate cake from THE MOOSEWOOD RESTAURANT BOOK OF DESSERTS that I think I will make instead, and maybe do the fruit and nut roll for Christmas Day.

Christmas Eve & Day

I wanted to try something a little different for Christmas this year. Generally, we have a pork roast with all the trimmings on the Eve and a turkey on the Day. Last year, we had roast beef on the Eve, and, while it tasted good in the moment, I felt pretty awful after. The problem with cutting red meat out of my diet is, when I indulge occasionally, I pay the price.

This year, I considered going Italian with a Feast of the Seven Fishes. Only, with the holidays coming up fairly soon after my surgery, it felt like too much. So I decided to make paella instead.

My paella pan is wonderful, although it requires more daily care than the cats. I’m going to do a Cod Catalan-style from the cookbook Paella!

We do our big celebration and opening of presents on the Eve, rather than the day. I’m doing a layered parfait of mousses in tall glasses, alternating layers of chocolate with layers of lemon.

I still don’t have the courage to try making a buche de Noel from scratch, although, someday, I promise myself that I will.

Christmas Day breakfast will be our tradition of thick slices of panettone served with scrambled eggs. Provided I can find panettone. That’s not easy this year.

For the big meal on Christmas Day, I’m going to make Cornish hen (as I did for the Autumn Equinox) with all the trimmings: mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce. Maybe I’ll do the carrot/parsnip/mushroom dish, and maybe either peas or spinach.  This might be a good time to do the fruit/nut pastry I’ve been thinking about.

New Year’s Eve & Day

I stopped loving New Year’s Eve a long, long, long time ago. People try so hard to be happy that they are desperate. When I lived in NYC, a block from Times Square, sometimes I had parties. Other years, I had to work in theatre, and, because they block off Times Square, I could not go home until 1 AM, and I was forced to stay out at an overpriced restaurant or at a party, even if I didn’t want to. So I have years of NYE unhappiness built up. I keep it quiet, with a lot of yoga and meditation (I used to go on meditation retreats), and good food.

For New Year’s Eve, I traditionally bake salmon with a citrus-cumin glaze, and I plan to do that again this year.

My family’s tradition demands that one must eat herring before midnight on the Eve, so that is what we will do. I am also making my favorite deviled eggs (from the recipe in the NEW BASICS COOKBOOK), probably a smoked trout pate, and there’s a cheese-and-leek pastry from the PAELLA cookbook I want to try.

With plenty of prosecco, which I prefer to champagne.

On the Day, again, our family tradition says you have to eat “something from the pig” before noon for prosperity. So I will make a traditional Eggs Benedict with Canadian bacon. And, again, plenty of prosecco.

My favorite big meal to start the New Year is roast duck. The indulgence of it makes me feel l I’m starting the year on a note of prosperity and abundance to set the tone for the year. It’s often way out of my budget (hence why I associate it with prosperity). I’m keeping my eyes open for a duck I can afford; My other choice is preparing rainbow trout. Trout symbolizes using emotion to carry you to a better place, instead of getting mired in them, which would be useful for the coming year.

Still trying to figure out the desserts.

Plus, I’m making stollen this weekend, so there will be stollen. Making the traditional Dresden stollen takes about 8 hours, so Saturday is blocked off for that.

I thought I was so organized and had it all sorted out, but writing this makes me realize otherwise!

Hits and Misses

Here is the roundup of new recipes I’ve tried in the last two weeks, with hits and misses.

gingerbread with pears

Gingerbread with Pears

This is a recipe from THE MOOSEWOOD RESTAURANT BOOK OF DESSERTS. Although the toothpick came out clean, the very center was a little underbaked, even though I gave it an extra five minutes. I will have to give it longer next time – because I will definitely make it again. It was absolutely delicious. The combination of pear and gingerbread is outstanding.

The pears do make it very moist, It has to be eaten quickly, or it can get mushy. But eating it quickly is not a problem. This was a hit.

cranberry walnut tea bread

Cranberry-Walnut Tea Bread

This was made from Brooke Dojny’s THE NEW ENGLAND COOKBOOK, which I love. I’ve made it before, and it consistently comes out well. It’s lovely and moist, but it keeps for a few days well. I’ve stopped wrapping breads tightly to keep them fresh, and now use a bread box, which I find works much better.

chicken with caramelized Brussel Sprouts and rice

Pan-baked Chicken with Caramelized Brussel Sprouts

This recipe was in the Savory magazine that Stop & Shop gives out. I’m not a big fan of Brussel Sprouts – although, when we were in Iceland, they were prepared beautifully. But I’ve been craving them lately, and this seemed like a good recipe.

 It’s very easy – cut the sprouts n half, toss them in 2 Tablespoons of melted butter and some salt and pepper. Arrange them cut side down on the baking sheet. Pour 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in the same bowl, season chicken thighs with salt and pepper, roll around the butter/oil, and place on top of the sprouts. Slice a lemon and place the slices over the sprouts, but not on top of the chicken. Bake at 425F for about 35 minutes (I did it a little longer, as one of the chicken thighs wasn’t quite cooked). I served it with leftover rice, and it was yummy. This was a hit.

I made a very quick chocolate mousse, something I do often. I have several dozen recipes for chocolate mousse, and I often do variations on them. One of these days, I will share some of the different recipes, and talk about how I choose which recipe to make at any given time.

I still have some leftover sprouts, but Moosewood has a recipe roasting them with pecans that I want to try, so they will be used up soon.

Have a lovely holiday season, and we’ll meet back up in early January to see how the holiday cooking worked out, and to plan delicious meals for a healthy winter.

A Short Break Today

image by Jill Wellington courtesy of Pixabay.com

If this post is up, that means the surgery went ahead (with the rising virus cases, I won’t know for sure until I’m in the hospital).

I’m having surgery today and will spend the weekend recovering.

Soup, warm liquids, and scrambled eggs are in my immediate future.

Hold a good thought and have a delicious weekend.

The Holiday Cookie Dilemma

image courtesy of silviarita via pixabay.com

Leftovers

Are you done with your leftovers yet from Thanksgiving? We ended up eating just about everything (one more serving of turkey stroganoff left) this week. We ended up not having to freeze much, because we ate it fast enough.

If I hadn’t thought we were going to eat it quickly, I would have taken a few hours to do the pot pies, the henhouse pie, the stroganoff, and the chili all at once, and then frozen it in portion-sized containers, to thaw as needed. That’s a good way to make sure the leftovers don’t wilt in the fridge.

The leftover stuffing was gone fast, in the sandwiches and in the pasties. I will share the pasty recipe below.

Holiday Cookies

I have friends, who, like me, grew up baking Christmas Cookies – which then morphed into Holiday Cookies as I add more holidays to my traditions. I have other friends who never baked cookies growing up, but now bake masses of them. I have still other friends who don’t like to bake, but they love to eat (which is great when I’m experimenting with recipes). Every choice is valid – do whatever YOU want, and ignore anyone who tries to make you feel bad for not doing what THEY want.

Over the years, working in theatre, baking became a big part of my traditions. When I worked an 8-show week, I baked every Sunday morning and brought in goodies for the matinee. It cheered everyone up and made matinees more bearable.

That grew into baking for friends on shows, on other shows, neighbors, people with whom I interacted regularly. In my tiny galley kitchen in the NYC apartment, I regularly turned out well over 1000 cookies and 30 cakes for the holidays.

cookie platters, ready to deliver

Moving here to Cape Cod, and not working 8-show theatre weeks, that adjusted a bit. I’m still known for my cookie platters, which go to neighbors, friends, business associates, the vet, the library, the firemen, the mechanic, the post office, the guys at the transfer station, etc.

My former neighbors (both, sadly, died two years ago) used to give us cookies, too. She used a basic recipe and then make it unique with different additions – peanut butter or chocolate chips or dried fruit. They were all yummy.

cookie platters

I usually had a centerpiece – a small loaf cake or a mini-Bundt cake or cupcakes. A few years ago, inspired by Jenn McKinlay’s Cupcake Bakery series, I created a Stained-Glass Cupcake, which is a spice cupcake with the English candied fruit peel used in fruitcake, covered in cream cheese frosting. They were a big hit.

Those are the centerpiece of each platter (I buy oval reinforced paper platters at Christmas Tree Shops).

Around them, I put 6-8 cookies of each type I baked that year. I have the regulars: Tollhouse, Molasses Spice (from a recipe in Bon Appetit magazine that turns out to be one of Dorie Greenspan’s). Over the years, per popular request, I added the Oatmeal-Currant Lace cookies from THE NEW BASICS cookbook, and Orange-Cranberry cookies (from the Cape Cod Cookbook by Jerome Rubin).

I used to do basic butter/sugar cookie cutouts, but I simply could not do the volume of cookie and decorate them in time (and make them look good) for the volume I needed. I have a massive collection of cookie cutters, though, and love them.

So, the sugar cookie is gone, and I experiment with other cookies. The plan is always to try new cookies during the year and make my decisions by August.

Well, we all know what THIS year was like. Pandemic. Even though I did plenty of stress baking, I did not experiment with holiday cookies. I seriously considered not baking at all. But, at the same time, I need to bake, and I think people need to know they are remembered.

On top of that, the platters simply aren’t safe to tote around in a pandemic.

This year, I’m using tins instead of platters covered in cellophane bags. I’m also doing far fewer tins/cookies. Many places can’t accept anything or are closed to the public.

In addition to deep cleaning the kitchen before each bake and baking while masked, I also ordered individual Cookie sleeves from Clear Bags. Each cookie will be individually wrapped and then put in the tin. So people don’t have to worry about handling the cookies themselves., The individually wrapped cookies will then be put in the tins, closed, and quarantined for 48 hours before distribution.

I’m not doing a centerpiece this year. They usually don’t keep well, and are the last thing made. In a normal year, I make them the morning I plan to start deliveries, and build the platters as soon as they cool, and then out the door everything goes.

And yes, I will be masked for both baking and packing.

I’m doing the Tollhouse, Molasses Spice, Orange-Cranberry, and Oatmeal Lace. I want to do a fruitcake cookie, but I’m having trouble getting the peel.

I’m in isolation as of Sunday for all of next week, leading up to my surgery. I can use the time to bake and then pack the tins.

They can be delivered in the days after surgery,

I’m hoping next year will be less challenging, so that I have the energy and enthusiasm to try some new recipes, especially some vegan and gluten-free.

I’m sure I will share the hits and misses here.

What are your holiday cookie favorites?

Dresdan Stollen

I started making Dresden stollen a few years ago. Stollen was a big deal in our household growing up. But the ones we’ve ordered over the years have gotten stale while getting more and more overpriced. They’re baked probably in February and sit around to ship in November and December.

I use the recipe in the German Cookbook by Mimi Sheraton. It takes about 8 hours, and makes 3 stollen of 2-3 pounds apiece.

They are wonderful.

They are worth it.

The Week’s Hits and Misses

Lots of leftovers this week, based on the recipes I posted last week.

turkey dinner in pastry

I promised you the recipe for the turkey pasty and here it is. It was really more Turkey Dinner in Pastry.

2 sheets (1 box) puff pastry

1 ½ cups Leftover turkey, shredded

½ cup Leftover veggies

½ cup Leftover stuffing

Several Tablespoons Leftover gravy

Several Tablespoons Leftover cranberry sauce

Thaw the puff pastry. It takes about 40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Roll out the individual pastry sheets. You can lightly flour your counter. I use parchment paper with a little flour on it.

This recipe reminded me how much I hate working with puff pastry. I loathe making it from scratch, and even working with the sheets annoys me. But the result is worth it.

Roll out the sheet until it’s the size you want and need. I rolled it lengthwise, so it looked like a portrait page on the computer (as opposed to landscape).

A little below the middle of the sheet, arrange the turkey with the veggies on top, then the stuffing. Spoon the gravy over that (I used about 5-6 Tablespoons of gravy, and I could have used 1-2 more). Spoon the leftover cranberry sauce over the top of all of it (I used about 5 Tablespoons).

Fold the pastry over the mixture. Pinch down all the seams, using a fork and a little water. You may have to mush it around and redo the edges so that it doesn’t spill out.

Place on a greased baking sheet.

Do the same with the second sheet.

Bake 30-40 minutes. I started checking it at 30 minutes, but left it in an extra 10 minutes. You want the pastry to puff and be a golden brown. The filling might split through a seam – you want it to bubble.

Let it cool for a few minutes before you eat it, because it will be VERY hot.

This made 2 large dinners in pastries. It was too much for one meal. We each ate half, put it in a dish, and reheated it in the oven the next day for about 20 minutes. It was just as good as fresh.

The next time I do it, I’m going to make them smaller, and make 2 pastries out of each sheet instead of one. If I’m only feeding 2 people, I will freeze the other two until I need them, and just bake what I need that day.

This was a hit.

apple pastry

Apple Cinnamon Pastries

I basically did exactly the same thing as above, as far as puff pastry went, but I did so with an apple filling a dessert pastry.

A friend had told me this recipe, and I saw something similar in Adrianna Adarme’s book THE YEAR OF COZY.

Preheat the oven to 350F

2 Apples of your choice (some suggest Honeycrisp. I used large Jazz apples).

½ cup brown sugar (I used dark)

1 tsp. cinnamon

A squeeze of lemon juice

Cut up the apples into small pieces. I like to leave the skin on, but some people don’t. Make sure you take out all the seeds.

Add the sugar and cinnamon. Stir well. Add the lemon juice. Stir well.

Roll out your pastry sheets.

Put half the mixture in each sheet, fold over the pastry, close the seams with a fork and a little water.

Bake on a greased baking sheet for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Again, these will be VERY hot when they come out.

I made only 2 large pastries (they look very similar to the turkey dinner pastries). Next time, I will cut each sheet in half, and make 4. I will bake all four at once, but they will be smaller and easier to handle.

Again, it was too much to eat for one dessert (especially since I made them on the same night as I did the turkey dinner pastries – that was a LOT of puff pastry to consume in one night). I cut one in half and we ate it. We reheated the other pastry the next night, cut it in half, and devoured it. It reheated just fine in the oven.

This was a hit.

Note: I’m suggesting greased baking sheets because I put them on ungreased and they stuck. I hoped the fat from the pastry would prevent the sticking, and I was wrong. So next time, I will lightly grease the sheets or use parchment paper.

Planning Ahead for Holiday Meals

The holiday meals I’m gearing up for are:

Winter Solstice

Christmas Eve

Christmas Day

New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Day

I’m still playing with ideas, I’m pretty sure I’m making paella for Christmas Eve. So sure that I now have a paella cookbook and the pan is on its way from Williams-Sonoma.

I’m gearing up for baking. I truly enjoy baking, and I hope you enjoy your holiday culinary adventures. Please feel free to share in the comments.

Don’t Worry About Leftovers — They’re Yummy and Versatile

image courtesy of Pexels viz pixabay.com

Fri. Nov. 27, 2020

I hope you had a joyful holiday, even though it was a smaller celebration. I hope the smaller celebrations caused less stress instead of more.

For those who cooked for the first time – I’m so proud of you! Congratulations!

photo by Devon Ellington

The turkey came out well. The photo is undoctored – even with all the liquid in the closed pan, it comes out with a nice, crispy skin. I did cook stuffing in the bird, which is not recommended. As I mentioned in last week’s post, I cook it at a higher temperature.

As you can see in the photo, the pop-up thermometer claimed it was cooked. So did the big old metal, oven-safe one (still inserted, per photo), AND the digital thermometer.

The turkey was tender and nearly fell off the bones, which made everything oh, so much easier. Turns out I needed three platters, not two: one for the breast, one for wings & legs, and third for the bottom of the cavity – the breast lifted right off.

photo by Devon Ellington

The gravy was an exercise in patience, but worth it. Unfortunately, I misjudged the amount of water I needed to steam the peas, and it ran out while I was focused on the gravy, so we had crispy peas instead of properly steamed peas or mushy peas, as you can see from the photo of the plated dinner. But they were fine.

We had fewer leftovers this year – I only made enough peas and corn for the meal. We didn’t prepare dishes of the full dinner to reheat. We stored everything in separate containers. From a 14-pound turkey, we had an excellent meal, and have three containers of meat left over. We have a little potato, 2 small jars of gravy, and some cranberry left. Once we made the stock, it was only 2 16-oz. jars of stock. One will be turned into soup, the other used for recipes below.

What to do with leftovers?

Here are some ideas. I’m doing the dinner ideas first, then some ideas below that.

Reminder:

T with a capital letter means “Tablespoon”

tsp. means “teaspoon”

When I talk about my “deep pot” – this is the one I mean. It’s made by San Ignacio. I have a whole set, and they’re so old, the company doesn’t even make them anymore. But I love them (I’ve used them since the mid-1980’s) and they work really well.

photo by Devon Ellington

Turkey Pot Pie

I do a very simple pot pie for leftover turkey, chicken, or any type of poultry I make. I do not do a full crust pie shell and fill it, because it either gets soggy or tastes like wet cardboard.

photo by Devon ellington

I make individual pot pies in these dishes. I love them; I bought them back in the 90’s in NYC at a place called Fish’s Eddy, before they got expensive. They’ve heavy stoneware. I bought six of them because that was all I could carry. I’ve used them for Shepherd’s Pie when I ate beef, and now use them for individual pot pies or the Henhouse Pie I talk about further down, or vegetarian pot pies.

You can use small, individual serving casserole dishes, or you can use a larger casserole dish.

Serves 2.

Preheat your oven to 350F.

For this, you will need:

About 2 cups of leftover turkey, in bitesize pieces

½ onion, diced

1 clove of garlic, diced

2 T olive oil or butter

A little more than 1/2 cup stock or gravy (do not use gravy is you are using the creamed soup; use stock or water)

About 1- 2/3 cups leftover vegetables of your choice (I usually throw in cut up carrots, peas, corn. You can use frozen mixed vegetables in this. If you’re cooking from scratch, I undercook the vegetables slightly)

1 can Cream of Chicken soup (optional) – the standard small size cans just over 10 oz. work well.

½ tsp. dried rosemary

½ tsp. dried oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup of Bisquick

2/3 cup milk

¼ cup shredded cheese (optional) Suggestions: a mix of cheddars or Monterey Jack or Gouda.

Heat a deep pot (I use the one for soup or pasta sauce, pictured earlier in this post) with the oil on medium heat.

Add onion and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes.

If you are using frozen or fresh uncooked vegetables, add them now, with a few tablespoons of stock or gravy, and the garlic. Stir well and cook 3-4 minutes. If you are using leftover cooked vegetables, you will add them later.

Add the turkey and the herbs.  If you did not add the garlic earlier, add it now. Also salt and pepper. Add in about ½ cup of the stock. Stir well. Heat through for about 5 minutes, stirring.

If you are using cooked vegetables, add them in now.

Cook about another 5 minutes, until the stock is almost gone.

If you are using the creamed soup, put it in now and stir it well. If you are not, you can add a little more stock and/or some gravy.

Let it cook on low heat while you mix the Bisquick and the milk until the Bisquick is dissolved.

Note: Many recipes call for an egg at this point so the crust puffs more. I do not. Try it both ways and see what YOU like.

I rarely use the shredded cheese for the pot pies, but if I’m making it for someone who loves cheese, I will add the shredded cheese to the Bisquick mixture and stir well. Put aside.

Stir the turkey/vegetable mixture well. Taste; adjust seasonings to suit you.

Spoon the turkey/vegetable mixture into your individual serving dishes or the casserole dishes. When I use the dish pictured, I always place the dish on a baking sheet, because the Bisquick topping will run down the handle and make a mess in the oven.

If you’re using individual dishes, leave room at the top so you can add the Bisquick mixture. If you’re using a larger casserole dish, it won’t be a problem.

Pour the Bisquick mixture over the turkey/vegetable mixture so it’s covered, and put it in the oven immediately so it doesn’t sink into the turkey mixture.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes -30 minutes, until the Bisquick is set and the risen pastry is a golden brown. Sometimes, if the oven is wonky, it can take a little longer.

Be careful when you take it out – it will be VERY hot. I put the individual serving dishes onto another plate before I serve.

You can make the mixture ahead of time, or make extra, and then add the Bisquick just before you put it into the oven. If you make a large casserole and have leftovers, reheat them in the oven, not the microwave, or the crust will get soggy.

Henhouse Pie

Again, I do this will all kinds of leftover poultry. It’s a variation on Shepherd’s Pie.

I do this in the individual dishes pictured above, or increase the proportions for a large casserole dish. This CAN be saved as even more leftovers.

This recipe serves 2, in individual dishes.

Preheat your oven to 350F

You will need:

About 2 cups of leftover turkey, in bite-sized pieces

½ to ¾ cup stock or water

1 can condensed Cream of Chicken soup (optional) OR ¾ cup leftover gravy (also optional)

About 1-1/2 cups leftover vegetables of your choice (I usually stay traditional with peas or a mix of peas and carrots. Note: if you are not using leftover veggies, cook them BEFORE you follow the recipe and set them aside).

About 2 cups leftover mashed potatoes (if you are not using leftovers, prepare the mashed potatoes BEFORE you follow the recipe and set aside. I usually reheat the leftover mashed potatoes for ten minutes or so in a double boiler before adding them to the recipe).

Salt and pepper to taste

Shredded cheese (cheddar or grated Parmesan works well) – optional

Heat the stock in the deep pot on medium heat. Add the leftover turkey and some salt and pepper.

If you’re not using the condensed soup or gravy, just heat it through about 4 minutes or so not all the stock has cooked off.

If you ARE using the condensed soup or gravy, cook at a lower heat until there’s very little liquid left, then add the soup or gravy, and stir until it’s warmed through and all the pieces are well-coated.

Layer the turkey into the bottom of your dishes.

Layer the vegetable(s) over that.

Layer the mashed potatoes over the vegetables and spread.

If you are using shredded cheese, put it on top of the potatoes. I prefer grated Parmesan on this, but three or four friends who love it when I make this prefer cheddar. The beauty of individual dishes is that you can customize.

Bake in the over for 20-30 minutes until cooked through. If you use the cheese, it will be all melty and a little bubbly.

Turkey Stroganoff

I adore stroganoff. Since I rarely eat red meat anymore, I substitute poultry for the meat, adjust the recipe slightly, and love it.

Serves 4

I sometimes wait to start the pasta water until I start the mushrooms; it’s more important that the pasta be put into the dish as soon as it’s drained; the turkey/mushroom mixture can sit there and wait for the pasta.

You will need:

About 3 pounds leftover turkey (figure 6-8 cups, if you’re measuring, more or less. You don’t need to be exact; these are leftovers)

6 cloves minced garlic total. You will use them in 2 different batches, so don’t mince all of them at once and have them sit around.

1 tsp. dried rosemary or 1 T. fresh rosemary

1 tsp. dried thyme or 1 T. fresh thyme

1 T smoked paprika

5 T olive oil (you will use 3T and then 2 T)

½ cup of stock or water

½ cup chopped shallots (about 4 or 5) or onion (about a half a small onion)

1 pound button mushrooms (or cremini), chopped

1 T Dijon mustard

½ cup sour cream

1 lb. wide egg noodles, cooked

2 T butter (unsalted)

2 T fresh parsley, chopped

I do most of this in the Deep pot. I cook the noodles in a slightly smaller pot, and I use a skillet/sauté pan for the mushrooms.

Mince 4 of the garlic cloves.

In a small bowl, mix them with the rosemary, thyme, paprika, and olive oil.

Put the turkey in the deep pot and pour this mixture over it Mix well, so all the pieces are coated.

Turn on the heat to medium. Add ½ cup stock, mix well, and let it cook on medium-low heat while you deal with the rest.

Start the pasta water, adding a little salt. Heat it on high, so the water will be boiling by the time you’re done with the mushrooms.

In the sauté pan, heat 2 T olive oil, then add the mushrooms. Cook for about 3 minutes on medium heat, until brown, as you mince the final 2 cloves of garlic and the shallots (if you didn’t precut the shallots).

Add the garlic and shallots to the mushrooms, with a little salt and pepper. Cook for about another 2 – 3 minutes, until it smells wonderful.

Your pasta water should be boiling by now; dump in the pasta. Stir it well. Turn down the heat a smidge. Every so often, give it a good stir while you do the other stuff. The wide egg noodles usually take about 7 minutes to cook.

Add the mushroom mixture to the turkey/herb mixture in the big pan. Stir well, keep it on low heat, and add more stock if needed.

In another small bowl, mix the Dijon mustard and the sour cream. Add a little salt (maybe ¼ tsp.) and ½ to 1 tsp. of pepper. Keep tasting as you add the pepper until you like it.

When the noodles are done, drain them, and add them to the turkey/mushroom mixture. Mix well, and turn off the burner.

Now add the mustard/sour cream mixture. Mix well.

Taste.

I love paprika, so I usually add a little more paprika at this point, but satisfy your own taste buds.

Garnish each serving with fresh parsley.

Serve at once.

This is something that reheats well, so if you make more and have leftovers from your leftovers, it gets better every time.

Turkey Chili

You can do this in the slow cooker if you want, or in the deep pot.

If you have a lot of leftover turkey and are getting sick of it, this is a good way to use it up. You can make the chili and freeze some of it, if you don’t want to eat it all at once.

4-6 pounds of leftover turkey

2 T olive oil

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

3-4 carrots, peeled and chopped

3-4 stalks of celery, chopped

1 cup corn

2 large bell peppers (red or red and any other color), cored and chopped

1 15-or so oz. can of diced tomatoes, or 6 Plum tomatoes, rough chopped

1 15-ish oz. can kidney beans, drained

1 15-ish oz. can chickpeas, drained

1 T ground cumin

1 T. dried oregano

1 T dried basil

2 T. chili powder or chili seasoning blend (you will add more to taste)

Dash of cayenne pepper

Salt

Black pepper

4 – 6 cups Turkey or vegetable stock or water

NOTE: I say -ish with the cans of beans, because there are so many variations, anything from 13 oz to 15.5 oz. to a little more or less. Any of those will work.

If you’re using the slow cooker, throw in all the ingredients and mix well. Make sure there’s enough to cover the turkey and vegetables.

Cook on low for about 7 hours or high for about 4 hours. There may be more liquid than if you cook it on the stove. Sometimes it cooks down to good chili consistency, and sometimes it stays more like a soup. If it’s too soupy for your taste about a half hour before it should be finished cooking, add a Tablespoon or two of cornstarch, potato starch, or chickpea flour.

If I’m using the deep pot, it’s much the same; I put everything in and stir well. I add about 4 cups of the stock, put it on medium heat, and cook, covered, for about 1 ½-2 hours. I check it every 20 minutes or so to see if it needs more stock.

You know it’s done when most of the liquid is cooked away and the carrots are soft. If the carrots are soft and there’s still a lot of liquid, mix 1 T cornstarch with 1 T water and stir it in, cooking on high heat, until it thickens. If it remains thin after a few minutes, mix another batch of cornstarch and water, and add it in.

Taste. If you want it hotter, add more chili powder until you’re happy.

Serve over rice and/or with cornbread.

Turkey Dinner Pasty

I’m not actually giving you the recipe for this on this blog post, because I’m still playing with it this weekend. It’s basically leftover turkey dinner, gravy, stuffing, cranberry, and maybe veggies in puff pastry.

It’s inspired by the Cornish pasties I ate in Cornwall.

A good Cornish pasty is a work of art. A bad one is wet cardboard wrapped around wallpaper paste. Wish me luck.

Turkey Dinner Sandwiches

I like to use big, thick rolls for this, like Kaiser rolls.

I split the rolls and heat them, face down, in a pan for 2-3 minutes. If I want them toasty, I butter them first.

I heat turkey, gravy, and stuffing in the microwave for about 2 minutes, slather them on the bread, then slather cranberry sauce on top of it.

Turkey Bahn Mi

I’m a huge fan of this Vietnamese sandwich. My favorite food truck in Boston is Bon Me, which is often across from South Station, pre-COVID.

I adapt the Bahn Mi with whatever I want on it. Again, I prefer the long Kaiser rolls, like a subway or hero sandwich. I’ve also used small, individual baguettes. Or, in a pinch, hot dog rolls.

I slather mayonnaise on both sides of the bread.

I put sliced or diced turkey into the roll, as much as I can fit.

I sprinkle some soy sauce onto the turkey.

Using the vegetable peeler, I grate about a half a carrot, and add that in.

If I have a couple of small tomatoes, I’ll cut them up and add them. Even better, I’ll dice up some red pepper (about ¼ of a bell pepper, cored) or some roasted red pepper. Both pepper and tomato.

Cucumber is a staple with bahn mi. I like it with chicken, but not with turkey, so I skip it for the turkey version.

If I have fresh cilantro, I’ll had about 2 T chopped cilantro. If I don’t, I add fresh parsley.

A few squirts of Siracha, and I’m all set!

Turkey Salad Light

Serves 1

I layer the plate with fresh baby spinach (after I’ve washed and dried it, of course).

I set the slices of turkey I want to eat over it.

I sprinkle it with the vinaigrette or dressing of my choice. Depending on my mood, I’ll use an Asian Ginger/Soy dressing or an Italian Robusto. Sometimes a splash of balsamic vinaigrette is all I need. Or a dollop of cranberry sauce or cranberry relish.

Turkey Salad Childhood Version

Serves 2-4

This is the kind of turkey salad I had growing up.

About 2 cups of chopped leftover turkey.

2 T mayonnaise

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1-2 sticks chopped celery

½ cup chopped lettuce leaves or spinach leaves or kale leaves

¼ cup fresh cranberries, chopped (optional)

¼ cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Mix it together well in a bowl. Serve with fresh buttered bread or crackers or just on its own.

Switching out the lettuce with spinach or kale is something I’ve been doing as an adult. We used regular old iceberg lettuce when I was a kid, then later graduated to romaine and/or whatever lettuce we started growing. Same with adding walnuts and cranberry. Now, it’s comfort food, but it was practically unknown when I was a kid.

Turkey Noodle Soup

I’m going to take one of my jars of turkey stock and use it to make the turkey soup based on the recipe for Chicken soup I posted last week.

I hope you got some ideas on how to use your leftovers, and will enjoy them.

I’ll play with some different ideas if we wind up with a Christmas turkey, too!

Nov. 20, 2020: Simple Ideas For Thanksgiving

image courtesy of pixabay.com

Thanksgiving Prep & The Week’s Recipe Hits & Misses

For a lot of people, this is the first Thanksgiving they are cooking their own meal. Don’t stress. Roasting a turkey is as simple as roasting a chicken. And don’t stress if you’ve never roasted a chicken, either. Learning how to do this will give you the base for countless easy meals.

I prepare a fairly traditional meal. If you want something more vegetarian or vegan-based, I recommend recipes from Moosewood, Kripalu, or anything by Deborah Madison.

Roasting isn’t quick, but a good roasted whatever gives you plenty of options with leftovers. I’ll do a post on leftovers next week, the day after Thanksgiving, when your fridge is full, and you can’t image wanting to eat any of it again.

And if you don’t want to prepare a turkey this holiday or eat turkey this holiday, you don’t have to. It’s Thanksgiving. Eat your favorite foods and enjoy yourself!

One of my favorite foods happens to be turkey, so I’m lucky it aligns. When we travel to Maine for the enormous dinner with 30-60 people, it’s very traditional (we’re not doing it this year). When I cook at home, it’s fairly traditional.

Turkey

I roast chicken and turkey in similar ways. It’s actually more of a poach than a roast, but the meat is beautifully tender and practically falls off the bone at the end of it. It’s not hard to take apart after the meal.

If you have access to and/or can afford a fresh, organic bird, excellent! The taste will be both stronger and deeper than a more commercial bird.

If you’re doing what oh, so many of us do, and use a frozen one, don’t stress. It’ll taste great. But you do have to defrost the poor thing before you shove it in the oven.

I get a little overexcited about turkey possibilities. A few years ago, when we had to forego the huge extended family dinner in Maine due to my mom’s surgery, I scored a 22-pound turkey for $9. I was so proud of myself!

Except.

A 22-pound turkey for 2 people.

Let’s just say it was a little excessive. Let’s just say we ate way too much turkey for way too many meals for way too many days.

But the meal itself was excellent. By then, of course, I’d been roasting/poaching turkeys and chickens for YEARS. Probably decades.

I have had disasters. One year, when we couldn’t go to Maine because I was working as a star dresser on the revival of FLOWER DRUM SONG on Broadway, and it was too soon after opening to train a sub and take off, I made an early dinner at my mom’s because we had a show that night.

Only, there was a problem with her pan and grease dripped down and the oven caught fire.

10 AM on Thanksgiving morning, I’m not even showered, and I have an apartment full of hot, sexy firemen tromping around.

There was no major damage, but I couldn’t cook the turkey in the oven. So I cut it up, put it in the oversized stew pot, added carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and Zatarain Creole spices and cooked it on the stovetop.

It wasn’t traditional, but it tasted just fine, and I’ve been dining out on the story (pun intended) since it happened. Well, a few months later, anyway. Initially, I was too embarrassed that, as an experienced cook, I had such a disaster. But stuff happens.

To get back to turkey prep:

Prepare Your Stuffing First

Because otherwise, the turkey just sits there, wilting. Unless you’re doing StoveTop stuffing, in which case, you can follow the direction on the package and prep it while the turkey’s resting when it comes out of the oven.

How do you make stuffing?

It depends what you like in it. Some people love and make great oyster stuffings or chestnut stuffings. I love to eat them, but I rarely make them. I make a very simple stuffing. You can exclude anything you don’t like, and add whatever you do.

Simple Stuffing:

Approximately 10 generous servings

4 slices bread, crumbled (I like multi-grain; If I’m using day-old French bread or Ciabatta, it’s about a half a loaf)

1 large yellow or red onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, diced

4-6 scallions, chopped (optional – if I have both, I use both; otherwise, I just use onion)

2 – 3 celery stalks, cut into small pieces

2-3 carrots, cut into small pieces

1 Tablespoon rosemary

1 Tablespoon oregano

1 Tablespoon parsley

1 tsp. thyme

1 tsp. tarragon

1 tsp. basil

½ tsp. paprika

1 apple, diced (optional)

1/3 cup currants or raisins (optional)

A handful of whole cranberries (optional)

1 stick butter, melted (see notes below for how to time the melting)

I mix it all together. I use either fresh or dried herbs, and I use a lot of them. Add each herb and taste, then adjust.

If I’m cooking it in the turkey, I melt the butter now, before I put it in. If I am cooking the stuffing separately, I melt the butter right before putting the casserole dish with the stuffing in the oven.

If I cook it in the oven, I put it in as soon as the turkey comes out, and turn the oven to 375 F. It takes about 20 minutes to cook all the way through. It will be crunchier than if it cooks in the turkey. You can make it mushier by either pouring ¼ to ½ cup chicken or turkey stock over it before you put it in the oven, or put melt another half a stick of butter and pour it over.

A friend of mine swears by cooking her stuffing in a crockpot. She mixes her recipe, puts it in the pot, and adds about a cup of water to it, and cooks it on low for the same amount of time as the turkey is in the oven. She checks it about once an hour and adds water if necessary. She doesn’t want it too mushy, but she also doesn’t want it dry. I have never done this, but All Recipes has one recipe here.

Stuffing Controversy

Yes, I cook the stuffing IN the turkey. There’s always more stuffing than room in the turkey, so I put the rest in a casserole dish and store it in the refrigerator, then put it into the oven for 20 minutes when I take the turkey out.

HOWEVER, I also cook my turkey at a higher temperature than recommended. Instead of cooking it at 325 F, I cook it at 350 F. I use a thermometer to make sure the turkey is cooked properly to the internal temperature. Because of the liquid in the pan, it doesn’t dry out, even though it’s at a higher temperature for the same amount of time.

If you are uncomfortable cooking with the stuffing in, then don’t. If you have the least bit of worry that you won’t read the thermometer properly or someone might get sick or something will go wrong, you don’t have to do it. Take as much stress out of your day as possible.

I started helping to cook Thanksgiving dinner when I was about seven or eight, so I’ve been doing this a long time. Listen to those you trust; do what makes you and those eating with you comfortable.

The Turkey Itself

Thaw the poor thing. If it’s frozen, I usually pick it up and put it in the fridge Sunday or Monday, depending on the size. Wednesday is often too late, and it’s been dicey to even wait until Tuesday.

Ready to handle it? Wash your hands and dry them.

Take off the covering. Sometimes they fasten the legs with that gross plastic tie thingy that’s embedded in the turkey. I use my Very Large pliers (the ones I used to wing and un-wing the Flying Monkeys when I worked on the Broadway production of WICKED). Yes, I sterilize the pliers both before and after I use them.

Once it’s thawed properly – in other words, no bits of ice are dropping off it, you can yank out the plastic thingy, and you can poke it with a finger and there’s give – remove the giblets. Especially if they’re packed in paper or plastic. Because it will suck to find them later on after it’s roasted and everything’s all melty and gross in there.

If you’re using them to flavor your gravy, stash them under the rack in the roasting pan now.

If you’re not brining the turkey, you don’t need to wash it. USDA Food Safety and Inspection says not to, because of cross-contamination issues. I don’t ever have the raw turkey touch a counter anyway. I scrub out the sink and dry it before I take it out of the fridge, wrestle what I need to wrestle in the sink, get it into the roasting pan, and scrub out the sink again.

I turn on my oven about now, so that by the time I’m finished with preparing the turkey, I can put it in the oven. If your oven takes longer to heat up, do it before you take the turkey out of the fridge.  I cook my turkey at 350 F.

Okay, you’ve got it into the roasting pan – on the rack, please, not just in the pan, or it will stick.

Pour a little bit of olive oil over the turkey and about a tablespoon or so in the cavity. Generously sprinkle salt and pepper on now. I like to sprinkle paprika, rosemary, oregano, thyme, and a little tarragon, too.

When I was a kid, I used to use those boxes of poultry seasoning you buy at the store. Those are fine, too. Play with it over a couple of years and see what you like.

If you season before you pour on the oil, you’ll wash off the seasonings.

Now jab in the thermometer, if you’re using a dial, oven-safe thermometer.  in the breast, at an angle so it’s secure and you can still get the lid on the roasting pan. If you’re using an instant-read thermometer that doesn’t stay in during cooking, skip this part. Yes, it’s important to know which kind you have.

If you’re going to stuff the turkey, stuff it now. Or put the stuffing in a casserole dish and stash it in the fridge.

I pour 5 cups of water or chicken or turkey stock into the bottom of the pan now. 5 cups keeps the bird tender and leaves enough liquid to make a good gravy.

When your oven is heated properly (mine beeps and a second light comes on), put the lid on the pan and put it in the oven. I have only one rack in my oven, and it’s on the lowest rung.

Close the oven door and put on your timer.

Cooking Times

When in doubt, visit the Butterball Talk Turkey Line. They are wonderful and amazing, funny and kind. They’re also on various social media channels.

They were featured in an episode of the West Wing, which was hilarious.

Most recipes advise cooking the turkey at 325F for 20 minutes per pound. As I mentioned above, I cook mine at 350F, but also figure 20 minutes per pound. Because of the liquid in the pan, it doesn’t dry out.

If I have a 14-pound turkey, I cook it 280 minutes, or about 4 ¾ hours.

We usually eat around 1 PM, so I put in the turkey between 8 & 8:30 AM.

Again, because of the liquid, in the pan, I don’t have to worry about basting it. I can either peel the potatoes and the sweet potatoes now and leave them in a pot of water until you’re ready to cook them, or take a break and peel them just before you cook them.

You will need to start cooking your sides before the turkey is finished, but I’m going to talk about taking the turkey out of the oven first, and we’ll say that your sides are already in pots on the stove while this is going on.

Turkey Out of the Oven/Gravy

A few minutes before the cooking time is up, get out your platters. Because the turkey is so tender, I often need two – one for the bulk of the bird, another for legs and wings.

I make sure I have the burner closest to the counter free. This burner is where I will put the roasting pan, where I stack my platters next to it, so I only have to move the bird a few inches out of the pan and don’t drop it, and where I will make the gravy. It means planning and shuffling pans with sides.

When the cooking time is up, take the turkey out of the oven, but don’t shut it off yet.

Carefully remove the lid – the steam will puff out, and you don’t want to get burned. Put the lid aside, in the sink, or a heat safe place.

The turkey will be falling apart tender, and look done. Chances are it won’t be Instagram ready, because it IS so tender and falling apart, but it’ll taste damn good.

Check the thermometer. Modern thermometers give you the internal temperature, which should be 165F. If you have an oven-safe thermometer that stayed in, wipe away the condensation and read it. If you’re using an instant-read, check BOTH the thickest part of the breast and the inside of the thigh.

If it needs to cook a little longer, put it back in the oven and check it every 10 minutes.

If it’s fine, remove the thermometer (careful if it’s been in with the bird all this time, it’s hot) and put it away. You can pour the melted butter over your stuffing, put it in and turn up the oven now. If you’re heating up rolls, this is a good time to put them in, with the stuffing, although you will need to take them out before the stuffing is ready.

If the legs and wings are tumbling off the bird because it’s so tender, give them a good twist and yank with a pair of tongs, take them off, and put them on a platter.

I use two long cooking forks, sticking one in each end of the bird, to lift it out of the pan and onto the platter. As I said above, the platter is beside the roasting pan. I lift the bird up a few inches and over. I don’t try to walk it across the room from oven to counter. That does not end well for me or the turkey.

I take out the stuffing now from the cavity, put it in the serving bowl, and cover it with foil while I finish the rest of the sides and the gravy.

Using the tongs, I remove the rack from the pan and put it in the sink or tuck it into the lid of the pan.

Take the giblets out of the pan. If you use them for something else like stock, put them in a bowl until you’re ready for them. I used to chop them up for the cats, but the cats living with me now think that’s gross and won’t eat them.

Skim off the fat from the liquid left in the pan. It’s already on a burner; you’re ready to make gravy.

Put the fat into a disposable dish (I use cream cheese or sour cream containers I’ve rinsed out once they’re empty). You don’t want to pour this down the sink.

With a whisk, in a small bowl, mix 2-3 Tablespoons of flour with about ¼ cup of water. Whisk until the flour is absorbed. It’s a bit of a paste, but not gluey.

Turn the burner under the pan onto low heat.

Slowly stir the flour mixture into pan liquid, either using a whisk or a wooden spoon. Stir in a bit of mixture completely, add more, until you’re done. The liquid will become a lighter tan color as it absorbs the flour mixture and thicken. The more of the flour mixture you add, the thicker the gravy, so you can play with proportions. But mix it in slowly and completely, so you don’t get lumps.

If you DO get lumps, you can put it through a small tea strainer and save it.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Usually, that’s all you need.

You can now put the gravy into your gravy boat or whatever container you’re using to serve it in.

Remove the pan from the burner (remember to shut it off). If you need to finish any sides, now is the time to do it, when the turkey is resting.

I always carve the turkey in the kitchen and either put the slices on yet a third platter, or just put them directly on the plate. Carrying the turkey to the table and carving it there has never been part of our ceremony, but if it matters to you, then do it. You can arrange the legs and wings that came off earlier on the side of the bird if you wish.

If you don’t want to make gravy, you don’t have to. Gravy used to stress me out, because I tried to rush it and it turned lumpy. Once I learned to prepare it on low heat and take pleasure in the stirring, it was fine. But there are plenty of prepared gravies you can use, and if that’s your choice, don’t let anyone stress you about it.

Mashed Potatoes

I love mashed potatoes. I love potatoes. I have cookbooks dedicated to just potatoes.

But the way I prepare them for a holiday meal is simple.

I like using Yukon Golds best, but if Russet or some other kind is all that’s available, that’s what I use.

Wash and scrub the potatoes well. Peel the potatoes and cut them into halves or quarters, and put them into a big enough pot so there are about 3 – 4” between the top of the potatoes and the top of the pot. Eyeball it, you don’t have to measure.

If you like making vegetable stock or if you compost, put aside the peels.

Cover the potatoes with water.

Add a dash of salt, if you wish.

Cook at medium-high heat for about 20 minutes, covered.

Test with a fork. If the potatoes are still hard, cook a few more minutes. If the potatoes are soft, turn the heat off.

Drain potatoes (I use a colander) and return to pan.

Warm 1/4 to ½ cup milk in a pan. Don’t boil it, just warm it up.

Add milk and 1 -2 Tablespoons butter to the potatoes.

Mash until they’re the consistency you like.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

You can garnish with parsley when you put the potatoes in the serving bowl.

If you don’t want to use milk and butter, you can use an 8 oz package of cream cheese instead (I learned that from Moosewood).

If you don’t want to use dairy, you can mash with ½-3/4 cup chicken or turkey stock.

If you don’t want to use any animal products, I use ¼ – ¾ cup of vegetable stock. When I use vegetable stock, I also add about ¼ teaspoon of dried thyme to deepen the flavor.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Wash and peel the sweet potatoes. Save peels for stock or compost. Cube the sweet potatoes.

Cover with water, put on the lid, and cook 15-20 minutes until soft.

Drain.

Add 1-2 Tablespoons of butter, 1 Tablespoon brown sugar, and ¼-1/2 cup of orange juice and mash. Add salt and pepper to taste.

If you don’t want to add butter, add a little more orange juice, until you achieve the consistency you want.

Steamed Peas

Put peas in the steamer over medium high heat. Add about 1 Tablespoon butter and ½ tsp. dried mint if you wish. Cook, covered, about 15 minutes. The time varies a little depending on how mushy you like your peas. The longer you cook them, the mushier they get.

Steamed Green Beans

Put the washed, trimmed beans in a steamer over medium heat and cook for 15 – 20 minutes, depending on how crisp or soft you like them. Yes, there’s water in the pot under the steamer. Don’t forget the water. You’ll smell it if you do.

You can toss them with a little butter and salt, or add slivered almonds and a touch of lemon juice.

When I made pork roast for Christmas Eve dinner, I steamed the beans, but poured Hollandaise sauce over them before serving. If making Hollandaise from scratch is too much, especially on a holiday, using the Knorr’s packet with milk and butter works just fine.

Steamed Corn

You can steam kernels over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, with a little butter and salt.

If you’re starting with fresh corn on the cob, bring salted water to a boil. Strip the silk and leaves off the corn and drop it into the boiling water for 3-4 minutes.

CAREFULLY take it out. You can serve the cobs on a platter, or, using those small corn cob forks, hold the cob point down on a large plate and scrape off the kernels with a knife.

A general note about steamed vegetables

I’m giving simple basics for some of the most common vegetable used on the holiday. If you like cauliflower or broccoli or Brussel sprouts or spinach – make whatever you want. This is about the meal YOU want to eat.

Squash

I’m not a big squash person, and have managed to avoid it being assigned to me for any of the holiday meals!

If you want good squash recipes, I suggest Moosewood Kitchen, Kripalu, and Deborah Madison. Links to their sites are earlier in this post.

Carrot/Parsnip in Mushroom Sauce

You have the option here of using fresh mushrooms and preparing a béchamel sauce, or using a can of cream of mushroom soup. Both work. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, Julia Child has an excellent recipe for Cream of Mushroom soup from scratch in JULIA’S KITCHEN WISDOM. Choose depending on time and energy. I often prepare this the night before and reheat on low heat right before the meal.

Wash and peel carrots and parsnips. If there are only two of us, I’ll do a half a bag of each; otherwise I’ll do a full, one-pound bag. Cut them into small pieces – I usually cut them in rounds, then the rounds into halves or quarters.

Save the peels for stock or compost.

Dice one small onion.

Heat the pan, add 2 Tablespoons of butter. Let it partially melt, then add in the onion, on medium-high heat.

Once the onion is translucent (about 3-4 minutes), add the cut-up carrot and parsnip. Add a little bit of salt and pepper, a dash of dried thyme, and about a cup of vegetable stock or water. Cover and cook on medium for 15-20 minutes.

If you’re using fresh mushrooms, cut them up and add them after ten minutes. If you’re using canned cream of mushroom soup, skip the béchamel recipe below.

While the carrot/parsnip/mushrooms are cooking, prepare a simple béchamel sauce. For the béchamel sauce, heat 2 cups of milk and keep them hot WHILE you whisk 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter into 3 Tablespoons flour over low heat. You want the mixture to stay light yellow as the butter melts and foam for about 2 minutes.

Remove the flour/butter mixture from the heat and whisk in the hot milk fast.

Take the pot back to the burner, bring to a boil, then turn it down and simmer for 2 minutes. Add in salt and pepper to taste, and a dash of nutmeg.

Once the carrots and parsnips are soft (about 15-20 minutes), either add the cream of mushroom soup or the béchamel sauce and stir well for 3-5 minutes.

If you are reheating from the batch you made the night before, do so on low heat for about 7-10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Cranberry Sauce

Like many people, I grew up on Ocean Spray cranberry jelly from a can and loved it. I now use Trader Joe’s Cranberry Sauce, which I also love.

Stonewall Kitchen has an outstanding Cranberry Relish and a wonderful Cranberry Horseradish Sauce (although I use the latter with pork, not turkey).

Betty Crocker has reliable recipes for Cranberry Sauce, Simple Cranberry Sauce, and Cranberry Orange Sauce.

Stuffing Revisited

This is a reminder, if you put in the stuffing when you took out the turkey – don’t forget it. If you’re heating up stuffing on the stove or making Stove Top, you’ll juggle it as you prepare the sides.

Cooking Tip

Because I have only four gas burners and often need more, if I am worried about timing and have the counter space, I set up a plug-in double burner. The vegetables steam just fine on them, although the potatoes will take a little longer. I’ve had my double burner since college days – it’s really old. I don’t use it that often, but when I need it, it saves a lot of stress.

I have invested in multiple steamers that fit into my pots. I like to steam vegetables, and I often have more than one steaming at a time, so it makes sense. They’re not expensive. If you take care of them, they last for ten or twenty years.

Rolls

I grew up on those potato rolls from the grocery store. If I’m serving rolls with the dinner, I’ll put them on a tray and pop them in with the leftover stuffing for about 10 minutes or so when the turkey comes out.

The other rolls I love to make are from Marion Cunningham’s THE BREAKFAST BOOK. They are an orange rye roll, and the recipe makes 10 rolls and a loaf of bread. Since the pandemic, I’m having trouble sourcing rye flour, even online, so I haven’t made them since the holiday 2019 season.

Often, when I’m cooking the dinner at home, we skip the rolls.

Dessert

What to do for dessert?

Whatever you want.

For the big. communal meal in Maine, we had a buffet table with all the food and sides on one side of the hall, and a dessert table on the other. I usually baked cupcakes for the dinner, either spice cupcakes or lemon cupcakes or devil’s food.

When I’m cooking at home, I’ll either bake a cake or make a chocolate or lemon mousse the night before, or I’ll buy an apple pie. I don’t have enough oven space to bake rolls or dessert while the turkey is cooking, so I either do it earlier or buy the dessert.

Enjoy Your Meal

This is the most important part of it.

This is the point of all the cooking – to create a special, joyful, enjoyable meal.

Too often, we’re so worried about the cooking and timing, we’re too exhausted to enjoy the eating.

Organizing Leftovers/Making Stock

You’ve eaten. Now you have to clean up.

As tired as you are, if you organize your leftovers, you’ll be glad later on.

How much is left over? In ordinary times, we’d bring dishes and split up the leftovers and everyone would take something home. This year, we ARE home, with only those in our household (if we’re being responsible), so we’ll have leftovers.

Realistically, how much are you going to be able to eat in the next few days?

I often will prepare a couple of dishes that have a dollop of the entire meal, including gravy. I’ll refrigerate one set, to be eaten within a few days, and freeze the other set, to be eaten a week or so down the line. When I reheat them, I add a little chicken or turkey stock.

The rest of the leftovers I organize and store separately, so I can do mix and matches with them, variations on a theme. Next week, I’ll share some ideas for leftovers.

I put together the dishes with the full meals and set them aside to cool.

Then, I put the sides in their dishes, and set them aside to cool. I have a fairly small kitchen, so I’ll either set them out on mats or trivets on the dining table, or set up a folding table in my office and put them there. I need room in the kitchen to clean. I will also stack dishes separately, because I need to deal with the food before I deal with the dishes.

As I take leftover sides out of serving dishes or pots, I organize the dishes either on the counter, or, again, on the table in my office.

Leftover gravy goes into small glass jars (so I can only use what I need), and labelled with what it is and the date, then set to cool with everything else. I leave the big roasting pan on a back burner. Okay, so sometimes I run out of room and put it outside on the table on the deck. You got me. I need a bigger kitchen.

Once the sides are out of the way, and the dishes organized, I face the turkey.

I pull out several storage dishes and the big stove-top roasting pot in which I used to make Yankee Pot Roast growing up. I also have newspapers set out on the floor.

If dogs are in the house, I shut them out of the kitchen for this part. The cats know to keep a safe distance.

Giblets go into the big pot.

As I strip the meat off the bones, the bones go into the pot.

Meat is organized into small bits (used for salads and pot pies) and larger bits, which are used for meals featuring leftovers, or sandwiches.

Yucky stuff like gristle, et al, goes into the newspaper.

When the turkey is stripped down, bones in pot, meat in dishes, yuck on newspaper, I gather up the yuck, roll it up tight, and throw it out.

Meat dishes go on the cooling table.

I might rough chop another onion and toss it into the pot, maybe with a few stalks of celery. I’ll cover the bones with water, add in some salt and pepper, and put on the lid. I let it cook on a back burner for about 2 hours, checking about every 30 minutes to see if it needs more water.

I take the leftover peels and bits from the vegetables, put it in a soup pot, cover it with water, add some salt and pepper. I move the turkey roasting pan to a front burner and put the covered soup pot on the other back burner, on low, and cook it for an hour to an hour and a half.

Ina Garten has very complex stock recipes in her book COOK LIKE A PRO. I stick to the way Julia Child suggests in JULIA’S KITCHEN WISDOM, which is simple and versatile.

I used to make complete turkey soup on Thanksgiving night, but I’ve discovered that if I just make the stocks, it’s more versatile. If I want turkey or vegetable soup, I can add in what I need for that. If I want to use the stocks for other cooking, all I have to do is open the jar and use it.

The dishes are cooling, the stock is started, the turkey is stripped.

Now, it’s time for dishes.

I rinse and sort what can go into the dishwasher. I collect old china and use it, so about 40% of the dishes on any given day can’t go in the dishwasher. On holidays, it’s about 70%.

Which is why the leftovers have to cool in another room while I’m doing the dishes. And no, I don’t have to worry about the cats jumping up. They’re busy with their own dinners and toys.

Dishes that go into the dishwasher are there safely. Now I wash the dishes that need to be handwashed and set them out on drying mats. If there are more dishes than counter space, I’ll do a sinkful, then dry them and put them away, then do the next sinkful.

I try to get all the dishes dried before I get started on the pots.

I scrub out the pots, leaving the big turkey roasting pan for last (yes, I retrieved it; I didn’t leave it out overnight). I usually let the pots air dry, and put them away either later that night, or in the morning.

By the time the dishes are done, the leftovers have cooled enough so I can put them away. If I’m worried they’re sitting out too long, I’ll take a break between the delicate dishes and the pots, and then put them away.

I label everything – nothing fancy, just a piece of paper with the information, especially the date, taped to the container. I decide which go into the freezer and which go into the fridge. I’d rather have more in the freezer and then thaw it as needed than overload the fridge and have things go bad.

I check on the stocks, adding water if necessary. Usually, I don’t need to add anything.

Once the stocks are done cooking, I move the pot to an unlit burner, take off the lid, and let it cool for about 10 minutes, so I can actually work with it without hurting myself. Also, I want to make sure when I put them into glass storage jars that it’s not so hot the jars break.

The vegetable stock will be ready first. I use a large strainer (not a colander) and strain it from the big soup pot into a smaller pot. When I have a compost heap, I can compost the vegetable remains; otherwise I throw them out.

I ladle the stock into glass jars, label them, and set them aside to cool.

By this time, the turkey stock is done. I remove the biggest bones of the carcass and toss them. As I remove the bones, if I can save bits of meat, I do; otherwise, I’ll just add meat when I make actual soup.

I strain the rest into another pot and toss the carcass, gristle, etc. If I’ve managed to save any meat bits, I put them into the strained mixture. I ladle that into jars, label them, set them to cool.

The jars usually cool in about 10 minutes.

I decide how many I will reasonably use fast and put those in the fridge. The rest go into the freezer.

I use a lot of stock when I cook and when I make soups. I go through stock fast and regularly make more.

I use a few tablespoons of vegetable stock when I reheat vegetables, and, if I’m cooking and not steaming vegetables, I’ll use the stock instead of water for a richer flavor. I use turkey stock to reheat the meat or make other dishes with the leftovers. It’s easy to use it fast, and it tastes better than water or purchased stock.

Of course, now there are more pots to wash up, but some of the others can be wiped dry and put away.

Now, I’m ready for another glass of wine and some rest!

I wish you a joyful feast!

Recipe Hits & Misses For the Week:

Most of this week was about leftovers from the previous week’s cooking, and to gain space in the fridge in preparation for the holiday leftovers next week.

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

Serves 2

This was great because it was made with leftovers. I had run out of celery, or I would have chopped up a stalk of celery to add.

1-16 oz. jar of homemade stock (Note: this was made from Cornish game hen; you can use chicken or turkey stock or dissolve 2 Tablespoons of Chicken Bouillon base to 4 cups of boiling water. I get my Chicken Bouillon Base from Atlantic Spice Company in Truro, MA – yes, they ship)

2 slices yellow onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

¼ cup each of chopped (where appropriate) leftover carrots, cauliflower, peas, corn

4 oz. of cooked wide egg noodles (these were left over from the Eggplant-Mushroom Marsala the night before, and stored separately from the leftover veggie concoction)

Sea salt to taste

Black pepper to taste

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley from the herb pot on my windowsill

Heat up the stock in a hefty soup pot as you chop the onions and garlic.

Stir in onions and garlic, lower flame to medium/low.

Stir in vegetables. Let it cook for about 5 minutes.

Stir in noodles, salt, pepper, and parsley until heated through, about 3 minutes.

Serve hot, but be careful – hot chicken soup can be REALLY hot!

This was a hit!

BASIC BREAD RECIPE FROM THE ENCHANTED BROCCOLI FOREST

I made that twice this week, once with honey and once with molasses. It takes about six hours to make, from the first sponge through baking. My dough hooks weren’t doing a good job of the kneading, so I wound up working it by hand, which I enjoyed, although I was sore.

This is a good, basic sandwich bread, and uses both white and whole wheat flour. It makes terrific sandwiches, and has become our go-to bread recipe.

This was a hit!

VEGETABLE CHILI

This recipe was from THE NEW BASICS COOKBOOK, which has been one of my foundation cookbooks for years. It’s a lot of chopping, and cooking an element, adding an element. It takes a good, long time.

I served it over leftover noodles the first time, and then made rice for the leftover chili. It was excellent with both.

This was a hit!

A lot of the rest of the week was eating other leftovers, and one frozen pizza heated up out of sheer exhaustion. I am making salmon burgers tonight, just for a change.

Have a lovely week of feasts and pleasure, and I’ll share some of my favorite leftover recipes next Friday.


 

Nov. 13, 2020: Firing Up the Virtual Stove Again

image courtesy of Gabriele M. Rheinhardt via pixabay.com

It’s been six years since I posted here. It doesn’t seem that long. The name of the blog, “Comfort and Contradiction: Food as Muse” refers to our often complicated relationship with food, and yet, for my work, at least, it’s also a muse. Funny for someone who hated eating for so many years.

My Instagram account (@devonellingtonwork) is used for my cooking and baking, the cats, the garden, decorating – home and hearth stuff, rather than marketing my writing. I do some marketing there, but for me, Instagram is more personal and more about fun.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a full-time writer, publishing under multiple names in fiction and non-fiction, an internationally-produced playwright and radio writer, and I write articles and all kinds of copywriting for a wide range of clients. I consider myself the “Anti-Niche” when it comes to writing. My main business website is Fearless Ink. The main site for my fiction is Devon Ellington Work, which has links to other sites that focus on individual series, etc. My main blog about the intersection of writing and life is Ink in My Coffee, on which I usually blog most weekdays. I spent most of my professional life working backstage in theatre and film production, including Broadway.

When I worked in theatre, I baked every Sunday morning, and brought it in to share before the matinee, to give the company something to look forward to. When I lived in San Francisco, many years ago, working in theatre, I gave a monthly dinner party, on the first Monday of the month. I’d cook a meal from a different country, and the guest would bring the wine. I lived in a studio apartment, and yet managed to have 20 dinner guests at these monthly gatherings. It was wonderful. Here on Cape Cod, I’ve given numerous Twelfth Night Parties from anywhere from 6 people (when I first moved here and didn’t know anyone) to 60 people. I’ve done all the food for author launches for friends of mine, baked for house tours, cooked meals for sick neighbors that just needed to be heated up. As I state on my pinned tweet: “I feed people with food and words. I believe art can change the world.”

I walk my talk.

I originally wanted to share cooking journeys here and work on my Heritage Recipe Project, where I took the recipes handed down and tried them, reworking as necessary, to make them work today. I will still do some of that, but this blog will range all over the damn place.

If you’re looking for recipes without context, you are not my audience. There are dozens of sites that have just the recipes. They are more suited to your needs.

If you come on here to whine or berate me for context because all you want are recipes and you want me to change what I do for your convenience, I will call you out for your bullying and block you. As I said, you are not my audience, so please move along without being an ass.

We’ve lost 241,069 fellow citizens to the Corona pandemic as of yesterday, according to the CDC dashboard, and likely, it’s been underreported. There hasn’t been a federal plan to fight the virus all year. The current Sociopath would rather see us die than do anything, because he’s bored and acts like a spoiled child.

There’s more food insecurity than ever, and the days of running out to the grocery store for “just one thing” are gone. We have to plan, it often takes at least a half a day to get the grocery shopping done and everything (including ourselves) decontaminated when we get home. We need to do more with less.

Our food safety regulations have been rolled back, and we can’t trust that what we buy at the store is safe. I’ve had various health issues all year, and have developed more food sensitivity and allergy issues that are directly tied to these issues.

Food is political. Control a population through their access to food. Corporations control too much, and more and more of our food is poorly processed and GMO. I used to be able to grow flourishing plants for my garden from vegetable seeds grown at the grocery store, even if they weren’t marked “organic.” This year? Sure, plants came up, but they never produced anything edible. The seeds were sterile. There’s also far too much economic segregation when it comes to food. Everyone, regardless of employment, social status, income, home situation, should have access to healthy, delicious food.

If you want more information about the politics of food and how corporations are manipulating so much of the market, I recommend the work of Marion Nestle.

I cook a lot. I experiment with recipes and ingredients. I have to eat healthier because of this year’s health issues. I have to find what ingredients make my body work best. It’s personal, but perhaps sharing some of that will help others.

There are also times when I know something will make me feel lousy a few hours later, but it’s something I’ve always liked, so I eat it anyway and then pay the price. I’m doing less and less of that, but it still happens. Sometimes the moment of pleasure as you eat it outweighs the consequences.

I don’t have a good camera right now, just my inexpensive phone camera, so my own photos will be marginal. I hope to get a new digital camera at some point next year and take better photographs. Also, the lighting in my kitchen is lousy – those eco-friendly bulbs aren’t any good for setting up good photos.

I will ramble, be personal, share ideas. It’s one way to do things, not THE way to do things. I will refer to the garden blog sometimes, Gratitude and Growth, when it’s relevant. If I can offer shortcuts or alternatives, I will do so. I will try to give you options, solutions, inspirations to try things on your own.

I am not affiliated with other authors, products, food distributors, so if I mention that I liked something or it worked, it’s not because they’re paying me to say it. If I do ever get something for free to try out in order to write about it, I will make that clear when I write about it. I can’t imagine I’ll get important enough to be courted by companies to write about those products (although I have written copy for products in the past, for THEIR sites, as part of my freelance copywriting career). But any connection I have with something I mention will be clearly stated.

At this point, I plan to post once a week, probably on Fridays. And yes, post more regularly than I have in the past. I think six years is far too long between posts, hmmm?

I’m putting together some ideas for next week, With so many of us not going elsewhere for Thanksgiving and cooking at home, I have some ideas on how to put together your own smaller Thanksgiving feast, what to do with leftovers, and, if it’s your first time cooking, some ideas to give you confidence.

Eggplant Mushroom Marsala on egg noodles. Photo by Devon Ellington

I’m sharing something I cooked last night. I don’t particularly like mushrooms, but I was craving mushrooms, and it’s important to listen to your body. So, I made an Eggplant-Mushroom marsala from one of the Moosewood cookbooks – specifically the MOOSEWOOD RESTAURANT FAVORITES cookbook.

For obvious copyright reasons, I can’t post the recipe, but it’s on p. 218.

If your library is up and running, either open or doing curbside pickup, I first found this cookbook in my local library system and liked it so much I wound up buying it. I’m a big fan of test-driving cookbooks from the library and then buying them.

I didn’t have marsala wine, and the weather was lousy. I didn’t want to run out in a pandemic for just one thing, so I looked up substitutions. Dry white wine was recommended, and I had some Bay Moon Sauvignon Blanc in the fridge, so I used that instead of the marsala, and it was lovely.

It does take a good bit of time to do all the chopping, but I chopped everything except the garlic before I turned on the stove, so I could just add things as I needed them. I also saved the seeds from the pepper – supposedly this is an organic pepper. We will see if it’s fertile or sterile.

Why wait to chop the garlic? (And yes, I use fresh garlic. I think it tastes better). When I took an online class recently with one of my favorite chefs and teachers, Jeremy Rock Smith of Kripalu, I learned that garlic loses flavor about ten minutes after you cut it. So if I’d cut it as I read down the recipe list of things to chop (which took me about 45 minutes to do all that chopping), by the time I finished and put it in to the pot, it would have lost its potency.

So, I chopped everything else first. As I heated the oil in the pot, I chopped the three cloves of garlic, and then could add them directly in to the pot with the previously-chopped onion and bay leaf and salt.

It was quite lovely, and there are leftovers, which I can use over pasta or rice or even potato if I wanted, or just serve it as a side with fish or chicken (I stopped eating red meat a few months ago, and have seriously cut back on pork, too).

That was last night’s cooking adventure.

I plan on cooking and baking this weekend. I will share the results next week, along with suggestions for Thanksgiving.

With all best wishes for health, safety, and making each meal a joyous experience,

Devon

A Day of Cooking and Planting

Brede's Braid Bread cooling
Brede’s Braid Bread cooling

New shoots (see Gratitude and Growth for details)
New shoots (see Gratitude and Growth for details)

Imbolc 2014, First Quarter Moon in Aquarius

I am an army that runs on my stomach. It wasn’t always thus. In fact, when I was a kid, I had a persnickety stomach and spent a lot of time throwing up. I ate when I was forced to eat. I ate to live.

I’ve never lived to eat, but I learned to enjoy it a lot more. Part of it was learning to cook.

I decided to learn to cook when I was eight years old. My family had moved to Rye, NY, from Chicago, two years before. My mom was sick with the flu. My dad, a brilliant chemist, nearly set the house on fire trying to make her tea.

I figured I should learn how to cook for sheer self-preservation.

My mom was a terrific cook, but hated it. My grandmother, on the other hand, was a wonderful cook and loved it. This is the “adopted” grandmother in Foxboro, MA. She made bread — I still have the handwritten recipes, and use them.

Over the years, I found out that many of the women on my mother’s side of the family were fantastic cooks. My great-grandparents actually ran a hotel in Germany, and people would come down from Berlin to have my grandmother’s coffee and cakes. It was before the days of running water — my grandfather carried the water needed to cook, clean, do laundry, wash dishes, etc., in buckets yoked across his neck.

I am grateful for indoor plumbing, that’s for sure.

In middle school, I took home ec, which was baking and sewing. I enjoyed both and still do both (and yes, still make my own clothes when I dislike what I see in the stores — I even worked in wardrobe on Broadway and in film and television production, although that was more about flipping people in and out of their clothes in quick changes than building).

The older I got, the more I enjoyed cooking. And baking. Throwing parties, as long as I could cook. Instead of getting on meal plan in college, I lived in a dorm where I could cook. Once I was out on my own, working around the country and around the world in theatre, I tried to rent places where I could cook. I went through a period where I cooked a meal from a different country once a month, and the guests brought the wine. My favorite cookbook at the time was THE POOR POET’S COOKBOOK by Ann Rogers, which I picked up on a remainder table for 99 cents. It’s still one of my favorites.

I’ve given parties, I’ve cooked for friends and lovers, I read cookbooks the way I read novels — voraciously. I’m a freelancer on a budget, so I don’t always get to indulge as much as I’d like, but I do love trying new recipes.

When I travel, say to the UK, I like to rent from the National Trust — and use the kitchen. Going to the grocery store is one of my favorite excursions anyway, but in a new place? I learn more about the area through the grocery store than any other way.

So, I thought I’d meander through some of my cooking adventures on a blog. Some will work. Some will not. Some things I might not like anyway.

I originally wanted to do this by “cooking through” various cookbooks, but that felt too limiting. I’d rather jump around, use seasonal foods, ingredients from the garden, and when fortune smiles, indulge in the kinds of ingredients I may not get to use on a daily basis.

I have no idea how often I will blog here. I apologize — one of the “rules” of building and keeping a readership is to regularly put up new content. I completely believe you are worth the time it takes to blog; but not everything I cook is worth writing about. When something is, I will, and I hope you will join me.

Now, settle back, with your favorite beverage. It’s been a gosh-darned long cooking day, so this will be a gosh-darned long post!

Please note that when I get into the “how” and “how much”, it is not structured or written in traditional recipe format. That is a deliberate choice. Also, I don’t insist that this is THE way to do anything — this is ONE way, and I’m sharing ways that work — and don’t work — for me. Part of the fun of cooking is using what worked for someone else as your jumping off point and experimenting to see what you, as an individual, like and don’t like.

Brede's Braid Bread
Brede’s Braid Bread

Brede’s Braid Bread
Since it is Imbolc, the time of new stirrings, I decided to make a traditional braided bread. I found the recipe in CANDLEMAS: FEAST OF FLAMES, by Amber K and Azrael Arynn K, published by Llewellyn (in the spirit of full disclosure, as Cerridwen Iris Shea, I wrote for their calendars and almanacs for sixteen years).

For obvious copyright reasons, I’m not posting the recipe. The book is well worth it, and the recipe is on p. 180.

I set out all my ingredients, like an organized little cook, and got to work. Bread takes time; it is not for the impatient. I made the basic dough, split it into three, and then added, as instructed, to each portion. I used the dough hooks on my mixer for the first time and REALLY liked them.

Mistake Number 1: I misread the recipe while trying not to step on cats and put molasses into both the white portion of dough and the whole wheat. Oops.

Mistake Number 2: I don’t know if this is actually a mistake, but I used a different type of yeast. I usually use Fleischmann’s yeast, and I’ve been using that brand since I started baking a Very Long Time Ago. For whatever reason, I bought a different brand in a store — they must have been out of Fleischmann’s, and used this one.

The bread didn’t rise as well as I’d hoped. I gave it more time, but it was what it was. I suspect the white flour strands were weighed down by the molasses that shouldn’t have been mixed in.

But the bread baked and looks pretty. When I sliced and ate it, I discovered it was heavier than I expected — again, probably due to the additional molasses. Also, I expected it to be more like a challah bread. Which is silly, because the recipe is not at all like a challah recipe. It’s still good (downright delicious), just different.

I will have to do another batch, at some point, without the extra molasses and using my favorite yeast, so I can compare.

Football Player Cake Pan
Football Player Cake Pan

Football Player Cake
Tomorrow is the Super Bowl. I am not fond of American football (my sports of choice are ice hockey and thoroughbred racing, both of which I’ve covered extensively).

However, chances are, I will watch the damn game anyway.

I found a cake pan shaped like a football player carrying a ball, back from my days when I gave SuperBowl parties. Or attended SuperBowl parties.

Well, finding the pan meant I had to bake a cake for the game.

I decided on a lemon cake. I have a wonderful recipe for lemon cake I’ve developed over the years. No, I’m not sharing it here — I’m just that mean. I will give you two tips for your own lemon cakes, though.

Tip #1: The last two minutes of mixing, beat on the highest possible speed. This fluffs the batter, and makes the cake delightfully light.

Tip #2: Type of lemon you use. You can use a real lemon or you can use the juice that comes in the plastic lemon. I’ve done both. If I use the real lemon, I either live with it being on the tart side (which I like), or I add 3 Tablespoons more sugar to the recipe.

Also, when I use a real lemon, I save the seeds and plant them. (If you’re interested in my planting adventures, check out the gardening blog, Gratitude and Growth). I did not use real lemons today or plant seeds because I have so many gosh-darned lemon plants growing right now from seed that, if they all grow up to be someone and have lemons of their own one day, I’ll have a grove. Which is fine with me.

Football Player Cake just out of the oven
Football Player Cake just out of the oven

Whenever I use novelty pans, I like to put them on a cookie sheet. Novelty pans are often unstable and unreliable, and the cookie sheet saves you a lot of oven cleaning time. However, that also means adding baking time — in this case, it was an additional ten minutes to the 30 minutes the cake usually takes.

I have not yet flipped it out of the pan. It looks pretty in there, and I’m worried it might break into bits, even though I buttered the pan carefully. I might just serve it directly from the pan.

Lemon is a great choice in the winter. One tends to think of lemon in the summer, for its lightness in hot weather. But citrus is a mood-enhancer, so if you’ve got the winter doldrums, a sunny, fragrant lemon cake is a way to lift your mood.

Roast Chicken
One of my favorite things to cook and eat is roast chicken. I have variations on it, but today I just massaged it with olive oil, used some Old Bay Seasoning on it, and cut up a quarter of an onion, three garlic gloves, and a few handfuls of rosemary for the cavity. Obviously, I removed the innards — neck, liver, heart, etc., which is sometimes in a neat little bag and sometimes just frozenly mashed to the inner cavity, depending on brand. I put it in a covered pan at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, on a rack in the pan, and pour 5 cups of water into the pan. That way, it basically poaches. I let it cook for 2 1/2 hours, and it’s so tender it practically falls off the bone. If you want to put the innards in the pan (under the rack) to flavor the gravy, go ahead. Sometimes I use them for gravy; sometimes I use them to flavor soup.

Roast chicken
Roast chicken

Tonight, I served it with broccoli and mashed potatoes. I always use whole milk and real butter in the potatoes. To me, there’s both a huge taste difference, and a texture difference. Whole milk and real butter give the potatoes a better consistency, even if you decide to use a food processor to whip them.

I also served a Cranberry Horseradish sauce from Stonewall Kitchen that went really well with the meat, and made gravy. I love gravies in the winter. Finally, this winter, I’m mastering gravy. I always had trouble with lumpiness. I take 2 Tablespoons of flour and about 1/4 cup of water (I use a small soup bowl to mix it) and whisk it until it’s smooth, then add it to the drippings in the pan (after I’ve removed the bird and the rack and skimmed the fat). Put in some salt, pepper, and herbs of choice (in this case, I put in a little more rosemary, some marjoram, and fresh sage snipped from a window plant I’ve nursed all winter). With a wooden spoon, stir over a low heat until it’s an even texture. There will be enough to use on your leftovers! If you’ve used the innards to flavor the gravy, remove them BEFORE you add the flour/water mixture — it’s easier.

Make sure you store gravy in glass jars, not plastic microwave containers. The gravy will stay fresh longer (you can label it and freeze it if you like) and retain its taste.

I had an idea, as I ate dinner, for a chicken and cranberry horseradish h’ors d’oeuvre that I need to experiment with before my next party. I promise to share the results.

If I cut up a lemon and put it in the chicken’s cavity, I don’t use the cranberry horseradish source — the flavors fight each other, in my opinion. You might try it and really like it. If I want to focus on lemon and herbs, I’d rather skip the cranberry horseradish mixture.

That, of course, leads us to

Chicken Soup
I use every darned bit of the chicken that I can. (Turkey, too, after Thanksgiving and Christmas). I love home made chicken soup.

To make the stock, I take the bones and innards that were in the cavity, put them in a soup pot or roast pot (I use the same big pot for soups and pot roast). I’ve already removed most of the meat and stored it for either leftover dishes or chicken salad. Pour 4-5 cups water over the carcass, cover, and cook over a low heat for 2 hours (checking every 30 minutes to make sure there’s enough water). If you want to toss in some onion and garlic at this point, go for it. I usually just put in a few bay leaves and some salt and pepper.

Skim the fat.

Take a second large pot and a colander. Pour the contents of the pot into the colander. The liquid goes through. The bones, skin, and chicken remain in the colander.

Now comes the icky part — pick through what’s in the colander. Keep the chicken; toss the bones, skin, gristle, etc.

Now you have options.

You can keep the chicken stock as stock and use the chicken you just saved for salad or stir-fry or whatever. In that case, let it cool down and store it in labelled glass jars in the refrigerator and/or freezer. When you need it, unfreeze whatever you need and use it in cooking.

Chicken soup simmering on the stove
Chicken soup simmering on the stove

Or you can make soup, which I like to do in winter. I pour the stock back into the first pot, along with the rescued chicken meat. Cut up a medium onion, 2-3 cloves of garlic, and whatever else you like in it. I like to cut up some carrots (3-4 large or 8-10 baby), 3-4 stalks of celery, a few handfuls of corn, and a few handfuls of chopped spinach. I prefer spinach to kale — it has a smoother taste. But use whatever you like — experiment.

I add herbs on hand: rosemary, sage, marjoram, oregano, tarragon, thyme. Last year was bad for basil — when I have basil, I add it. I also like to toss in a bit of paprika and salt and pepper. If I want a deeper taste, I add about 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg. Usually, I prefer to use those in meat dishes.

Add 2-3 cups more water, simmer for 20 minutes. Your entire space will smell wonderful.

Let it cool, and store in labelled glass jars in the fridge or freezer.

I’m not going to tell you how long you can or can’t keep something in the fridge or freezer. Learn your own device. I’ve found jars of chicken soup in my freezer after an embarrassingly long time, and they’ve been delicious — and safe. But I’ve been doing this a long time, and I can tell by smell and taste in ways that a newer cook might not be able to discern. Be careful, be cautious. But also don’t waste.

When you heat up the basic soup in the jar, you can add variations. I like to add the noodles when I reheat, because otherwise they dissolve in the refrigerated soup. Also, that means that any portion I heat can be different — a different type of noodle, if I have a cold, I throw in a few more cloves of garlic, if I want it creamier, I add the cream or make some dumplings. The variations are endless. But this basic soup gives me a flexible starting point.

I’ve now been cooking for twelve hours today. In between all of this, I did three loads of laundry and planted vegetables and herbs. It was a lot of fun, but . . . I’m done!

Hope you’ll visit next time I spend some time in the kitchen!

–Devon