Tuesday, November 28, 2006

An Untraditional Thanksgiving Tradition

Thanksgiving traditions in most American households include serving the following dishes at dinner: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, a fall vegetable dish of some sort and cranberry sauce. My family's Thanksgiving traditions are quite similar. Every year, we have the 22-pound fresh turkey; a home-made corn bread based stuffing with sausage, apples and currants; mashed potatoes; mashed turnips; brussel sprouts; a fresh cranberry sauce made with cranberries, a little orange zest and a healthy dose of some flavored liquor; and, maybe another vegetable dish thrown in for good health. What is untraditional to most Thanksgiving traditions is that we start our meal with a soup.

For the past 10ish years, we have begun our Thanksgiving feast with a Curry Pumpkin Soup. Concededly, the curry seams a bit unorthodox, or untraditional, to perhaps this Mayfloweresque celebration, but surprisingly, the spice and flavor compliment the meal flawlessly. The curry in the soup, although present, plays a minor role in comparison to the soup's main ingredient – the pumpkin. The pumpkin in the soup is always fresh – never canned.

The process for pureeing pumpkins is arduous at best, as the process begins in a pumpkin patch and ends in a food processor. Cheese pumpkins, which really resemble a Cinderella coach rather than an aged Gouda (well, perhaps the color of a cheese pumpkin is akin to a mild cheddar) are halved, seeds removed, and baked until the pumpkin is soft and mushy.

Once the pumpkin is adequately baked, the fleshy pumpkin meat is scooped out of the pumpkin's shell and placed in a colander to drain. As a quick word to the wise, a patient cook would allow gravity to work its magic so that the pumpkin's moisture slowly drains from the fleshy pumpkin meat. An inpatient cook (yours truly) would mash spoonful size portions of pumpkin meat in a fine sieve until the pumpkin meat is sufficiently dry. This technique is not only messy, but completely tiring and inefficient. I digress, but we do learn from our culinary mishaps after all. After the pumpkin meat is drained, it is run through the food processor until it is a puree. After a few pulses on the processor, pumpkin puree is formed (just like the canned pumpkin)!

After laboring over the food processor, the soup is made by sautéing some finely diced onions and leeks. The pumpkin puree is added, along with proportionate amounts of chicken broth, curry powder, nutmeg, salt and pepper and a few bay leaves. This mixture cooks for about 45 minutes on low heat. At the last minute, a few drops of heavy cream are added to the soup. The soup is served with a dollop of sour cream and a few pinches of paprika to garnish the soup.

So this untraditional Thanksgiving dish has become a tradition to my family's meal. Although the curry may seem unordinary, the tasty is really quite extraordinary.

Until next time…

Monday, November 20, 2006

Rolling Without A Pin

I was presented with a bit of a baking challenge this weekend. I sort of felt as if I was a participant on Iron Chef or maybe some prime time reality TV show, in which the purpose of the challenge is to create something using only the materials you can find around the house. Well, that might be a bad analogy (the analogy gene doesn't run in my family), but you get the gist...

Anyway, so I was doing a little cookie baking at a friend's house this weekend, and although I brought most of my own tools and ingredients, I found that a few basic baking tools were missing and I was presented with a baking challenge. So the twist on this baking adventure was that I needed to make my decorative sugar cookies without a rolling pin. Was this a catastrophe? Not really. An inconvenience? Absolutely. An impossibility? Never. This culinary genius found a way to roll out my sugar cookie dough and my fondant without a rolling pin.

A full-size bottle of Ultimate Margarita Mix is the perfect alternative to a rolling pin for sugar cookie dough. When looking for rolling pin alternatives, think about what it is you are rolling out. Does it require an even thickness? Does the surface need to be smooth? If your answer to the above questions is yes; then I suggest looking for a bottle (or cylinder-shaped object) that is smooth and evenly shaped. A bottle of cognac, for example, would be a bad choice. A Grey Goose bottle would be ideal, but if your fear is damaging or dropping an expensive bottle of vodka, I would suggest using a cheap bottle of margarita mix. You may need to put a little flour on the bottle so it doesn't stick to your dough if the bottle is already a bit sticky from the margarita mix.

Rolling out my sugar cookie dough with a bottle of Ultimate Margarita Mix was no problemo. A bottle of Ultimate Margarita Mix, conversely, is not ideal for rolling out fondant. Fondant can be incredibly sticky and you really do need a very dry and smooth round object for ideal rolling. I was unable to find a decent alternative to a rolling pin for fondant, so I was forced to flatten my fondant with the palm of my hand. Was this ideal? No. Was it successful? Somewhat. Was the fondant aesthetically pleasing after I flattened it with the palm of my hand? Not at all. My fondant, although flat, had fingerprints all over it and was a bit bumpy. Fortunately, this didn't compromise the taste of my cookies!

So what is the moral of this story? Well, there are two….margarita drinkers are probably good bakers and, two, never leave home without your rolling pin! I have attached some pictures of the decorative cookies! This baking experience was a lot of fun and I loved the challenge!

Until next time…

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Room Full of Foodies

I have always been fascinated by the phrase "an 800 pound gorilla in the living room." It is such a funny expression, and I guess despite its obvious, albeit figurative meaning, I have never quite understood it's meaning completely. However, in the last two years, I have developed this odd Pavlovian response when hearing the expression. My response is to look around the room aimlessly, believing that my puzzled look would actually produce an 800 pound gorilla lounging on a chaise of some sort.

Last night I took a food writing course at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) and somewhere between the class beginning and the class ending, I figured out that the 400 pound canary in my room is me. Lately, my feelings of disinterest, distraction and, often times, complete indifference about work, feelings of which have gone completely ignored, are really signs that I need to be doing something other than monitoring a public hearing on the recent bed bug invasion in New York City. While the subject is concededly concerning, my notes from the hearing only reflect the ingredients I needed for the recipe I chose for dinner that night. So has the elephant in the room all this time been my craving to cook, bake, create recipes, come up with fun food-related story topics and of course to write about all of it?

The students in last night's food writing class were all like-minded gourmands. They loved food, the ingredients, the recipes, the eating experiencing, the dining experience and writing about the story behind it all. For the first time in a while, I didn't feel like there was an oversize animal of some sort hanging out in a small living space. It was an inspiring experience, which I am hoping will lead to some creativity on my part to do a lot of more cooking, a lot more baking and a lot more thinking about my professional future!

Until next time…

The Apple Gala

I like that name for our recent event. (I knew I should have worn a gown!)

Below you can see the fabu spread we created, and us devouring that fabu spread....

Monday, November 13, 2006

An Apple Gala

Chefs in the City met tonight for an apple gala (get it, a gala is a type of apple from Washington!!). Anyway, us Chefs in the City girls decided to cook with a common ingredient this month, rather than having a theme dinner. Everyone came with great dishes! The dishes included an apple and parsnip soup that was made by our new member Megan, and had a bit of coriander in it for a nice little kick; Andrea brought some apple and potato pancakes with a horseradish dip that were crispy, light and super flavorful (must have been the oil that kept them so fresh.... (was that the reference, Andrea?); a brussel sprout and apple side dish prepared by Kendra; some pork and apple and red cabbage and apple turnovers made by Larisa; and, last, but certainly not least, a delicious apple pie made by Maggie. The dishes were all very creative and very tasty.

I was a little nervous about our apple gala. I associate apples with pies and crisps and tarts and sauces and trees and maybe blow pops, not an ingredient in a main dish or a side dish. After performing an exhaustive search of all the major cooking internet sights and NOT coming up with one interesting main dish that incorporated apples, George's Mom found a dish for pork and apple turnovers. The recipe, at first, seemed intimidating as it called for turmeric, cumin, fresh ginger, and various other spices and ingredients that I didn't have in stock, but once I got cooking, the recipe was really quite simple. Essentially, 3 inch squares (exact measurements are an absolute must - blast the math!) of puff pastry are stuffed with a pork, apple, onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cumin, and chili powder mix. The 3 inch squares are folded into triangles and baked for about 20 minutes. Knowing how to use a tape measure is a must for this recipe because a slightly-off 3 inch square suprisingly doesn't produce a perfect puff pastry triangle - yes, it's a conspiracy....

To make a short story long, the turnovers were a bit dry on their own. They needed a sauce. I came up with a sauce incorporating most of the spices in the turnovers, but using a hoisen garlic sauce as my base. The sauce was a reduction of hoisen sauce, honey, fresh ginger, cumin, chili powder and diced apples. I think it made the turnovers a bit more interesting to eat!

Anyway, this month's supper club was a lot of fun and a huge success. We were joined by a new member, Megan, and look forward to getting to know her better!

Until next time...

Apple Pie is Soooo Hard!

All American Apple Pie Recipe

I can't even wait until tomorrow to tell you about my apple pie baking experience. I thought pie baking was in my genes as my mom and aunties are always popping them out of the oven. Not so much! I can't remember a more difficult experience in the kitchen before making and rolling out a pie crust. I was so frustrated at one point that I actually stomped on my kitchen floor. I haven't thrown a tantrum since I was in diapers but a mini-tantrum was definitely had today. Read more about it on my blog

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Is she alive?

Yes I am and I'm back! I've been horribly absent for a while because I decided to leave my studying until the last minute and cram like crazy until my series 7 exam last Thursday. It was an 8 hour thrill ride of an exam but when I reached the end, bleary-eyed and doubting my knowledge of stock options, I read my calculated score and didn't believe it. I passed with an 80%! As a present to myself, I finally picked up Julie and Julia and am now 90% through it - thanks Larisa, love it. Back to cooking and blogging and reading for the sheer joy of it!

Fond-tastic Times With Cookies

I made some more cookies this weekend. I am starting to get a bit more comfortable with baking - although I have to say I really took the easy way out. I already had some dough in the freezer that I made last week so I saved a bunch of time by not having to make a new batch of sugar cookie dough. I also bought a package of royal icing mix, which cut down on the time it would have taken to make my icing. However, I did find that the royal icing mix directions were a little off. The directions called for adding 5 tablespoons of water to the one pound package of royal icing mix. Well, since I was only making a small batch of cookies, I decided to only make a portion of the royal icing mix. According to my math, 1/2 of a cup of royal icing mix (1/4 of a pound) and 1 1/4 tablespoons of water should have produced the desired icing peaks to form, but in reality, I needed almost an entire cup of royal icing mix. Who knows....

The exciting part of this weekend's adventures in decorative cookies was working with fondant. Fondant was the first layer of my icing for the cookies. Working with fondant was so much easier than I anticipated. I really thought that it would be one huge fond-aster, but the fondant was quite manageable. I did find it diffucult to roll it into a very thin sheet. The layer of fondant on my cookies was almost as thick as the cookie itself, but hopefully I'll get the hang of rolling fondant with practice!

As you can see from the pictures the cookies are in the shape of dog biscuits. Despite not having a dog, I just found the cookie cutter too cute to pass up! I might try to find out when Kendra's dog's birthday is and send some cookies for the occasion!

Until next time...