Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Part One: Starters

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Ours was a tremendous success (despite the 7.5 hour drive from DC to NJ). Since we were arriving in NJ on Wed. night, I had to do some of the Thanksgiving preparation in DC on Tuesday evening and bring it along with me. My sister and I prepared the sweet potato casserole and butternut squash soup in advance. Similarly, my mother prepared the stuffing in advance and went to pick up the turkey on Wed. Thursday morning, we woke up at 7 am to get ready for the meal. I will organize my posts around the meal, starting with the starters.


Our family friends (a family that comes each year to Thanksgiving) brought over the appetizers. A fantastic collections of Mediterranean favorites: hummus, pita, stuffed grape leaves, eggplant salad, and chickpea salad. We also had a soft brie, Havarti, and cheddar cheese with crackers and grapes. We started snacking at 2:30 with the arrival of our first guests.


After the finishing touches on the turkey, gravy, and salad as well as debate, discussion, and catching up, we moved to the table and served the soup. The soup was a butternut squash soup I prepared in advance in DC on Tuesday. The recipe for Butternut Squash Soup came from Flavor Diva, and is available here. I tripled the recipe and had a bit of trouble, when I tasted the soup-- it tasted more like garlic than like butternut squash! Turns out that the squash I used were not very flavorful, while the garlic was strong. I had to throw away 1/3 of the soup and replace it with two new butternut squash and an apple. After adding in these additional ingredients, the soup turned out wonderfully.

I made this fall salad last year as well. It is delicious and a good compromise because the recipe I had picked out for this year had goat cheese in it (which my mom is convinced she won't like). While I am going to work on the goat cheese with my mom over the next year so that we can hopefully have it next time, this salad with candied pecans hit the spot. I tripled the recipe for a ton of salad!

Fall Salad (from the Food Network)

What You Need:
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup raw pecans
- 1 small shallot, finely diced
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons maple syrup
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 head endive, separated leaves
- 2 hearts frisee, hand torn
- 1 large radicchio, torn leaves
- 1 red pear, sliced
- 1/4 cup shaved Parmesan

What You Do:

1. To make the candied pecans, set a nonstick pan over medium heat.
2. Add the butter and sugar and once it has melted toss in the pecans and continue to toss to coat and cook evenly, about 1 minute.
3. Transfer to a sheet tray lined with waxed paper (use 2 forks to separate pecans) while you prepare the salad.
4. Make the dressing by combining the chopped shallot, Dijon and balsamic vinegar in a large mixing bowl.
5. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while you whisk to emulsify.
6. Add the maple syrup and season, to taste, with salt and pepper.
7. Assemble salad by tossing greens and pear slices in a large mixing bowl with maple-balsamic dressing.
8. Top with shaved Parmesan and candied pecans.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Eating Animals

I just finished Jonathan Safran Foer's new book Eating Animals. I picked it up on Sunday morning after a trip to the Dupont Farmer's Market. I finished it in just three days (Sunday afternoon and after work Monday and Tuesday). I couldn't put it down. Jonathan's use of language, straightforward description, and incredible personal narrative is compelling and impactful. He provides enough details to make you uncomfortable but, as he mentions in the beginning of the book, are conservative. While I already knew much of the information he outlines regarding animal processing methods and abuses, the book made my stomach churn.

Jonathan probes the reader with very pointed philosophical and personal questions. He challenges readers to look at their own stories (which define our identities and relationships) and evaluate what our dietary choices mean. He asks how our dietary choices define us. He argues that choices about what we eat and how we eat it matter most. The voice of his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, echoes throughout the book, “If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.”

This is an important book to read. I am going to read it again, more carefully, so that I can really evaluate what Jonathan has written.

Ultimately, however, the solutions he offers to the host of issues and complexities he presents regarding eating meat, current animal agricultural methods, and the factory farming industry revolve around personal choice, specifically, vegetarianism and veganism. He writes, "It might sound fantastic, but when we bother to look, it's hard to deny that our day-to-day choices shape the world." I agree with Jonathan, individual choice is important. It does matter.

But, how can we confront the overwhelming economic, political, and social forces presented in the book? These forces remain unknown. Also, Eating Animals introduces different characters, many entrenched in the fight against the factory farm, but how can they work together when they do not agree on the end goal nor the means? Goliath is poorly defined but omnipresent; David is splintered and may not be equipped for the fight.
Personal choice is only a part of the solution. Political advocacy and social change are needed on a much larger scale. But with what goal and how do we get there?

Jonathan argues that his book is “an argument for vegetarianism, but it’s also an argument for another, wiser animal agricultural and more honorable omnivory”. What he means by “honorable omnivory” is presented mainly in anecdotes about the few “compassionate” and “sustainable” farmers left in the United States. I am left wondering how this is possible and what steps need to be taken to get there.

Read this book. I’m going to read it again. I have not yet decided on what his challenges mean to me.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Barbeque Meatloaf

In testing recipes for Thanksgiving sides, I also decided to make one of my cool weather favorites: meatloaf. The recipe I use is adapted from Paula Dean's Barbeque Meatloaf. It is fantastic, moist, and homey. I'm going to be eating it tonight with my Thanksgiving butternut squash soup and brussels sprouts hopefuls (recipes to come with later Thanksgiving prep posts, after I know that they are a go).

Here is the recipe that has worked for me whenever I need a good comfort food:

Barbeque Meatloaf (adapted from Paula Dean's)

What You Need

- 1 pound ground beef
- 1/2 pound ground turkey
- 1 cup bread crumbs
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 2 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce
- 3 tablespoons vinegar
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 cup water, to thin sauce if necessary (I very rarely use this)

What You Do

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Saute chopped onion and bell pepper for 5-8 minutes. Let cool for a couple minutes.
3. Mix together the beef, bread crumbs, onion, bell pepper, egg, salt, pepper, and 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce.
4. Form this mixture into a loaf and place it in a shallow pan.
5. Stir together the remaining tomato sauce, vinegar, sugar, mustard, Worcestershire and the water (if too thick, which it rarely is).
6. Pour this sauce over the meatloaf. (This will look pretty scary. The meatloaf is swimming in the sauce, but don't worry! It will absorb and the sauce will no longer be there at the end.)
7. Bake for 1 hour, basting every 15 minutes with the pan juices. If there still are a lot of juices and sauce, let go another 15 minutes.
8. Enjoy!

Leftovers should be eaten on English muffins for a fantastic sandwich. Yum.

Thanksgiving Planning

With less than two weeks before Thanksgiving, my mother and I are in prep mode. I ordered the turkey and now we are sharing recipes and discussing the menu. Appetizers and wine will come from the guests. Pies this year will come from a nearby farm market (pumpkin and multi-berry). Although I am tempted to make my own pumpkin pie again this year (it came out really well last year). My mother always has a great strategy to cook the turkey and stuffing (there always needs to be traditional items on the table).

Otherwise, the remainder of the meal is open for discussion. My ideas so far:

Soup: Butternut Squash Soup (with apple)
Salad: Asian Pear and Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese
Side 1: Sweet Potato Casserole (with pecans and marshmallows)
Side 2: Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Hazelnut Butter
Cranberry: Honey-and-Spice Cranberry Sauce

After a lot of reading and searching, I have the recipes picked out. I sent them over to my mom and sister for review. Most of the above are new to me with the exception of the sweet potato casserole. I have two potlucks coming up in the next week, and hope to have some friends over for dinner as well. I will attempt to do a trial run of most of these recipes before the big day. As I cook and finalize the recipes I will use, I will be sure to share.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Colorful Cauliflower

Can you believe that cauliflower comes in all these amazing colors? (The above is not my picture by the way, I found it off a google search.)

At the farmer's market this morning, I was able to pick up some purple and orange cauliflower. I love this veggie and will probably eat most of it raw. I may also include it in a veggie saute with other yummy items.

Just thought I would share my excitement!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Having achieved moderate success with mozzarella cheese and yogurt, it is time to try another adventure with milk. While I was looking through old magazines for recipes (starting to brainstorm about Thanksgiving and also a company pot luck), I found last November's Food and Wine. In it, I saw an article about Maria Helm Sinskey and her ricotta cheese and associated recipes. Unfortunately, I don't have a camera at the moment to take pictures to show you how cool it is to make ricotta (so you will have to just take my word for it). If you are really interested on the appearance, it does not look much different from mozzarella while you are making it.

Below is the recipe (from Food and Wine's Creamy Ricotta recipe), it makes 3.5 cups of ricotta and can be kept in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

What You Need:

- 2 quarts whole milk, preferably organic
- 1 cup heavy cream, preferably organic
- 3 tablespoons white vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

What You Do:

1. In a medium pot (or bigger), warm the milk and cream over moderately high heat until the surface becomes foamy and steamy and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the milk registers 185°; don’t let the milk boil.
2. Remove the pot from the heat.
3. Add the vinegar and stir gently for 30 seconds. Maria says that "the mixture will curdle almost immediately." And it really does! This is so crazy to watch. Take a look at the mozzarella pictures if you are curious on how this looks.
4. Add the salt and stir for 30 seconds longer.
5. Cover the pot with a clean towel and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours.
6. Line a large colander with several layers of cheesecloth, allowing several inches of overhang.
7. Set the colander in a large bowl.
8. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the curds to the colander.
8. Carefully gather the corners of the cheesecloth and close with a rubber band.
9. Let the ricotta stand for 30 minutes, gently pressing and squeezing the cheesecloth occasionally to drain off the whey.
10. Transfer the ricotta to a bowl and use at once, or cover and refrigerate.

With this delicious cheese, I'm going to try Maria's Baked Penne with Sausage, but I have to make some adaptations due to what was available at the market and store.

Baked Penne with Sausage and Creamy Ricotta (adapted from Food and Wine)

What You Need:

- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
- One 28-ounce can tomato puree
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 teaspoon ground anise seed (substitute for fennel)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 pound penne
- 3 cups ricotta (homemade is best!)
- 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (post about mozzarella here)
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

What You Do:

1. Preheat the oven to 400°.
2. In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.
3. Add the garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until lightly browned, about 1 minute.
4. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat, until browned, about 8 minutes.
5. Add the tomato puree, water, sugar, bay leaf and anise.
6. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil.
7. Simmer over low heat until thickened, about 30 minutes.
8. Remove the garlic, mash it to a paste and stir it back into the sauce; discard the bay leaf.
9. Meanwhile, cook the penne in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente.
10. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot.
11. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
12. Using a slotted spoon, add the cooked sausage to the pasta, then add 1 cup of the tomato sauce and toss to coat the penne.
13. Spoon the pasta into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
14. Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the pasta and dollop large spoonfuls of the ricotta on top.
15. Gently fold some of the ricotta into the pasta; don’t overmix—you should have pockets of ricotta.
16. Scatter the mozzarella on top and sprinkle with the Parmigiano-Reggiano.
17. Bake the pasta for about 45 minutes, or until bubbling and golden on top.
18. Let rest for 20 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Decisions... and Spaghetti Squash

So, my mother and I have decided on the Thanksgiving bird from Goffle Road Poultry Farm (see previous post for the debate). I will have to keep working on my sell for the Red Bourbon. I think by next year I can come up with a convincing menu that relies less on the turkey and includes additional sides. Or, I will get some money saved up so that I can by the bird myself. Either way, I'm happy with our decision and I'm just waiting on the size request before placing our order.

After some crazy weeks, I'm back at home and recovered from a nasty cold. I don't have much in my fridge. But I do have a Spaghetti Squash from some weeks back that still looks good. I'm going to give it a try.

Here's what I'm doing:

Spaghetti Squash

What You Need:
- 1 spaghetti squash.
- Large sharp knife
- Baking pan
- Kitchen fork
- Pasta sauce, herbs, butter, or pesto (I'm going to put some butter and tomato sauce on it to try it out, but there are other good ideas like Herbed Spaghetti Squash from the Food Network)

What You Do:
1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Poke holes in the whole squash with a sharp knife.
3. Place whole squash in a baking pan.
4. Bake squash for one hour.
5. Remove from oven and let cook.
6. Cut squash in half.
7. Remove seeds and pulp.
8. Use fork to scrape the edge of the spaghetti squash to shred the pulp into strands (this looks like spaghetti, so they say).
9. Serve with a sauce, butter, pesto, and/or herbs.

I'm going to give this a try tonight! We will see how it goes.