Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Holidays. Oh! The Holidays!

Am I the only one who misses those wonderful, drapey, lead icicles?
I love me some Christmas. Love it, love it, love it! I'm one of those freaks who starts trying to play Christmas music in July. Although usually just because the weather depresses the hell out of me and it's just a reminder that it will go away, eventually. I'm NOT one of the people who wants to decorate to the hilt - that's way too much work for me, and it gets kind of grungy after a couple of weeks. I do put up a tree (and I believe we'll be doing that today!) and get excited about that every year.

Would someone please give me a tree skirt? 20 years and I've never had one.

But mostly the holidays are of course, about the food. One cooking day in particular is sacred to me, and that is Cookie Baking Day.

When I worked in the office, lo, these many long years ago, I was The Baker. I made the birthday cakes. I brought in coffee cakes. I baked cookies and whatever took butter, sugar and flour and brought it in the office. I loved to bake.

Could I please have my 24 year old body and hair back?
That was our very first Christmas tree. We bought it from this guy who cut them down and brought them to the office. We had no monies. So we had some white lights, strung popcorn, and one package of red balls. We were so happy with our first tree. We sat and admired it from the hand-me-down sofa.

Me: Isn't it pretty?
Me: Did we buy twinkly lights? I thought they were just plain old white.
Pootie: No... they're just regular. They do seem to be kind of twinkly though, don't they?
Me: They actually look like they're moving...
Pootie: They do... don't they?
Me: (getting up and examining the tree more closely) Holy @@$!!!! There are TICKS all OVER this thing!! Oh my god! Oh my god! Do something! Kill them!
Pootie: You can't be seri... Oh my god! They're EVERYWHERE!!!
Me: Oh my god! Oh my god! I was all up in this thing earlier decorating it! I'm probably covered! Hose me down! Check me! Check me! Ticks! Ticks! Oh my god!

True story.

As it turned out, I had managed to escape unscathed. And we "borrowed" a flea and tick bomb from the neighbor and gassed the crap out of our tree that night. The next morning, we had a bedsheet full of dead ticks and a tree that smelled like pesticide.

Ahhhh, the simplicity of the First Christmas Together...

Pootie's Masterpiece

Also that Christmas, Pootie made the Martha Stewart Gingerbread Mansion for our dear friends Ben and Amy. He used about twenty pounds of sugar trying to get the hard crack stage right for the windows. The apartment was a disaster. But it was beautiful. See the little lampost? Isn't that cute?

What was I talking about? Oh. Cookie Baking Day. After we moved from Atlanta, I kept working for the office and shipped them Christmas cookies every year. I've never missed a year, and I left in 1996. That's 14 years of cookie baking and shipping.

So come Saturday, I'll load up my embarrassingly large iTunes list of Christmas music, and by 8:00 AM I'll be elbow-deep in butter, flour and sugar once again. Loosen your belts, ladies and gentlemen. You're likely to osmose some calories just from reading the blog after this blowout.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

Our Thanksgiving was pretty nice, despite temperatures in the 70s (I want it cold, please). I got up Thanksgiving morning and made the cornbread for the dressing, and about 15 minutes later, someone with what sounded like a full mouth hollered from the kitchen "Hey, uh... this cornbread is for the dressing, right?"

Apparently, we have rodents at 305. Tall, 2-legged, blonde rodents.

I called my mother and spent a nice hour on the phone with her, making The Dressing together. I won because mine was put together before hers. Of course, we wound up getting confused over a couple of things and I had to modify the recipe I originally put up. I  forgot the Kitchen Bouquet! Thank goodness she was there to read me Grandmother's recipe in her own handwriting, with notations by Mom and me.

Then Pootie and I headed out to Wrightsville Beach, where his family (parents, sister and family, aunt and uncle and cousins) had rented a beach house and were all staying. (We opted to stay home and sleep in our own bed and just do day visits out there.)

I did a little cooking, then joined most of the group down at the beach, where Pootie was surf-kayaking (I'd have gone too, but I was on Turkey Duty). It was, as I mentioned, about 70 and warm - nice for being on the beach. I put the turkey in the oven and headed out.

Phillip's parents

Our nephew, Benjamin

Cousin Alex took a tumble in the waves.

It's not a holiday until someone gets hurt.

Alex tries out the kayak. A few more years, kiddo.

After we watched Pootie tumble around in the waves for a while, we headed back. I was met at the door and lit into by the Family Matriarchs. "Well, it's about TIME you showed back up here! When were you going to turn the temperature down on this oven? We were about to come and get you and see what you wanted done with this turkey (insert "Missy" here)". Whooo! Here's the deal. When I cook a turkey, I like a nice, crisp, dark skin. So I start the bird at 400F, roast it for about an hour, then turn the temperature down to 350 and cook it the rest of the way. I don't really care if Alton Brown agrees with me or not. I got back in (my) time to turn it down the rest of the way. But not before taking a little abuse from the women. Oh, well. It's also not a holiday until someone gets fussed at. Might as well be me.

While we were futzing over the rest of dinner, there was lots of milling about and chatting.

Calls were made to absent family members

The table was set

Stories were told (some true, some ...embellished...)

Games were played (and catnaps were taken)

Alcohol was consumed

Theo was left unattended (take my word for it, he'll be getting into trouble)

And the real turkey was taken out of the oven to rest.

The skin is done to crispy perfection. And you just wait - this is not a tough, overcooked bird, I promise.

Other food was prepped.

P's sister's husband Craig carved the turkey.

See? Nothing dry and tough about this bird - (the turkey, not Craig. Although I guess he's not dry and tough either.)

And then the eating commenced.

The back of Uncle John. Oh - and that one, there? That blonde? Lora. Tried to start a food fight and got Benjamin in trouble with his Grandmother. (My mother-in-law was on a fussing jag that day.)

Whew. (urp)

After dinner, cleanup was of course, in order. I got up from the table and started to help, looked over and saw my husband, my nephew and P's cousin David sitting in the living room playing Risk. Not one of these goobers had lifted a finger to help with dinner. Bossy Andie felt it necessary to step in and say "Seriously? You guys are going to sit on your butts while the people who cooked all day clean up the mess? I don't think so. How 'bout you get up and help clean the kitchen?"

It actually worked! And I didn't even get in trouble from my husband for being Imperative Girl!

David, "helping". I'm sure whatever he was texting was muy importante.

Truly, a little soft-shoe while you're cleaning never hurts.

You can tell the fast cleaning action by the blur. And no, I wasn't helping. SOMEONE had to photo document. Besides, I cooked the turkey, dressing, gravy and dessert.

Then there was more game playing


More eating! David's wife Lora (the thinnest of all of us, of course, and the one who hadn't even been able to eat a full dinner because she was playing with her 3-year-old, Alex) returned to the kitchen for carrot cake.

Me: You're eating AGAIN??

Lora: (sputter, sputter - you #$#@!)

Well, you know, there hadn't been any bickering since the Oven Temperature Incident. Someone had to get the ball rolling again.

There was even more drinking.

Things started to get ugly.

Watching the debauchery wore my father-in-law out.

It was just as a Thanksgiving should be. Food, drink, a little nattering, and lots of love.

It was wonderful. Hope yours was, too.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Grandmother's Dressing

My grandmother and me. I have no idea what I'm doing.

It's Thanksgiving again. (Again!) Good lord. Time, she do fly.

Just about everyone has some tradition, I know, and the web is rife with them right now. So who am I to go try to be original and all that? Let's talk dressing.

First, it's not stuffing. It's dressing. No one in my family ever put bread in the bird. So I've never done it myself. Tradition.

Second, it's very, very plain. VERY plain. Dry and crunchy around the edges - perfect for gravy. No onions, No celery. And you can't slop it out with an ice cream scoop like that nasty soggy stuff they served us in school. Good lord. Grandmother used to make two batches. One with oysters for Granddad (and no one but Granddad would eat it) and one without.

He loved oyster dressing. And licorice.

We had the same meal twice over the holidays every year. Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Mother and I still can't figure out what the hell the deal is with this "skirt". Was she training me as a young Britney Spears? And for the record, yes, my thighs are still that chunky.

Turkey and Dressing, Strawberry Salad (a strawberry/pineapple/jello salad topped with sour cream that everyone on MY side of the family loves - my in-law family, not so much - so I don't make it anymore) succotash, and sweet potatoes. And karo pecan pie (my mother would eat the crust and the karo part - she hated the pecans) and pumpkin pie (which, I was informed by my mother-in-law ten years after I married into the family and had cooked every year, that no one but me liked. Humph.).

Grandmother got the recipe for the dressing from a friend of hers, but for everyone in the family, it's Grandmother's Dressing. And we've passed this kind of vague recipe back and forth since before she died. Never quite sure how much liquid, how much "a package of Pepperidge Farm Stuffing Mix" was - was it the big one, or the little one?

We scattered into three different time zones, and every single year, somebody was calling somebody, saying either a.) "I've lost Grandmother's Dressing recipe. Can you send it?" or b.) "So... wait. Is it double the liquid on the recipe, or is this the doubled recipe?"

In Grandmother's kitchen. My uncle Jim and his girlfriend Cathy and my mom.  I'm pretty sure Dad did my hairdo. He had a tendency to pull my pigtails reeeeeallly tight. I think Mom is wiping something off my face. Losing battle. I'm my father's child.

Despite the complete and utter (and most unreasonable) rejection of the strawberry salad and the pumpkin pie, my mother-in-law LOVES this dressing. Which redeems her. (Plus, I don't like her Christmas goose and chestnut dressing, so we're roughly even.) She has been known to turn down dessert in favor of another helping of it. As I said, it's plain as can be, but still delicious, and it's one family tradition I will not be fiddling with. I don't have pictures of it, because I haven't made it yet. Besides, it's Brown. You can picture it, I'm sure. Thursday I'll be cooking it for my in-laws and uncle and aunt-in-laws and cousin-in-laws.

Grandmother's Dressing
One recipe serves six easily.

1 - 8 oz. package Pepperidge Farm Stuffing mix - the herb one - not that new cornbread one. I don't have any idea what that is.

1 pkg Jiffy Corn Bread Mix, baked according to instructions. You heard me. You'll need milk and an egg. I actually use buttermilk.

4 slices bread. Just any old bread. Try pumpernickel. That would good.

Crumble the cornbread and place in a very large bowl. Tear the bread into small pieces and add to the cornbread. Add the Pepperidge Farm Stuffing mix. Set aside.

Now over medium low heat in a medium pot, heat:

1 stick butter
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
 2 chicken bullion cubes. These are here for the salt. Trust me. You need it.

2 tsp. Kitchen Bouquet

When the butter is melted, pour this liquid over the bread crumb mixture. Then add:

3 eggs, beaten

Mix the liquid and bread together well, until well-moistened, but not mushy (says my mom). My grandmother's recipe says "Add giblet liquid, if necessary". Mom says "blegh", so we changed that to "turkey or chicken stock".

Put into a large baking dish - I use a 9 x 13" Pyrex baking dish. Bake at 350F for about 30 minutes, or until a little crispy on the sides.

Serve with turkey and gravy.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Trout with Pecans and Brown Butter

It's been a while since we made an excursion out to Mott's Channel Seafood, so we decided to remedy that this weekend. I scored some gorgeous trout filets there. I love trout. I used to fish for it with my dad a hundred and fifty years ago on the Spring River when I was a kid. We would sometimes catch Heterolepidotus and throw them back. That's how long ago it was.

These I didn't catch. Someone else had that fun. I just got them in a little bag.

Ah, yes, the ubiquitous foil and parchment lined pan. Obviously, I got them ready to go on the grill. I cranked it up to 450, salted and peppered these guys and drizzled them with a little olive oil. While they were cooking on the grill, I made a quick and easy pecan and brown butter sauce.

It was simple. Watch. Melt about 2 Tbs. of butter in a small pan over medium low heat, then add a generous handful of pecans. Add a pinch of kosher salt.

Mmmmmm... the smell of pecans browning in butter... all it needs is bourbon.

I actually didn't use bourbon, though. Thought it would overpower the trout. So instead, at this point, add about 1/4 cup of dry white wine (which I happened to be drinking) and a good pinch of minced rosemary. Then just serve that right over the trout.

I also made some green beans that even Pootie liked. He's not a huge green bean fan. "Do something with them - don't make me eat them all plain.", is his plea whenever he sees me get them at the Farmer's Market.

These are easy too. Cook the green beans in a pot of water with about a Tablespoon of kosher salt. Yes, you heard me. Let me digress for a moment about salt. If you don't eat a bunch of processed foods, you're not getting tons of salt in your diet. If you cook what you eat from fresh ingredients, the only salt you're getting is what you put in it. Most of this salt you're going to be pouring out with the water anyway. This is just to give the beans some flavor. So put the salt in and boil them for about 7 minutes or so.

Then drain them, keep them in the same pot and set them aside.

In another pan, cook a couple of slices of bacon. I use uncured. I'll do salt. I try to avoid the nitrate thing. Anyway, you could use pancetta, and I probably would have, but I was out. Set it aside to drain on paper towels, then chop. (The bacon, not the paper towels.)  Add a chopped shallot to the bacon drippings and about 2 teaspoons of minced rosemary.

This is EXACTLY what your stove action should look like. Except yours is probably cleaner.

When the shallot is translucent, set it aside.

When you're ready to serve, put the green beans back over medium heat, add a tablespoon of butter, dump in the shallot mixture and the bacon, and toss together until the beans are rewarmed.

Then serve with your trout.

You can even catch your own, if that's what you're into. Say hey to the river for me.

If you'd like, here is a .pdf of the trout, and here is one of the beans.