Monday, December 20, 2010

"Tis the Season

I'm beginning to mentally plan our party for Twelfth Night, which will also be our housewarming event, but it isn't until January 8.  Until then, I have the pleasure of going to Other People's Parties.

First up this weekend was Laurie Perry's annual Solstice Party on Saturday night.  There, I learned that Laurie and her sister (and various other relatives and SOs) are writing a blog called Party Know-It-Alls.  Laurie does a beautiful spread of food every year, often Middle Eastern, but this year she decided on a taco bar.  Check out Party Know-It-Alls for the salmon taco recipe.  It is delicious.  No surprise.

Our Sunday afternoon party at my barn was canceled due to the rain we've been getting in SoCal for the past three or four days.  The text came just as I was about to go buy ingredients for a hearty, warm dish a fancy  mac and cheese recipe from Rachael Ray that is always a hit with the Sunday Super Supper Squad 

Because of the rain, we decided to stay home rather than to risk the freeways on a trip to a party in Pacific Palisades.  I was sorry to miss it, but people in L.A. drive like they have no idea what to do and any hilly area is subject to mudsides.  Ugh.

I took the opportunity to get the kitchen ready for baking.  I've been organizing my dry goods in blue-lidded Fido jars from Italy, ever since I discovered them at Ross.  Sur la Table has them in other sizes at greater cost, but it does not sell the ones with cobalt-blue lids.  I have many of the one, two, half, and three-quarter litre sizes, and a couple of 3 litre jars for sugar and flour.  I think they go as big as 5 or 6 litres, but I have yet to see these in the flesh.  My rebuilt house had a pantry with shelves just deep enough for two rows of the jars, but I lack that in the new place.  Instead, I have a cabinet pantry, with pull-out drawers on the lower part.  That's where I'm keeping the jars (they hold about 16 big ones or 20 small ones.)  I got Len to do the labels for the filled ones yesterday and he'll do the new ones as I add ingredients.

I did get a chance to make the famous mac and cheese last week for the SSSS, along with a glazed ham and some brioche.
Then I took the remainder of the brioche dough and made pecan sticky buns for breakfast (I should have made this photograph when the buns were hot, because the caramel coagulated when they cooled.  Not nearly as attractive.)

Sticky buns turned out to be pretty easy to make when the dough was already in the refrigerator.  Seems like a theme in my cooking lately.

Turkey Three Ways

Our Thanksgiving dinner went well, despite the rapid last-minute decline in attendees.  I was expecting 14 and ended up with 11.  So we could have kept the table in the kitchen and still had enough room for everybody without going through the bother of creating a replacement for the two 18" wide leaves that died in the house fire.  But that gave everyone more than enough room for full place-settings and glassware.  And it only took me about three days to clean up--just in time to make a post-Thanksgiving feast on Sunday night with a boned, stuffed, and rolled turkey breast and thighs.
Len insists on doing the stuffing for the turkey, but the rest of the duties are mine.  Although I had been concerned about getting a large bird into the oven, there was plenty of room for it and I still had the other oven for baking and sides.

Last year, I attended a Thanksgiving dinner class at Sur la Table.  One of the things I carried over from it was making the gravy base in advance.  The one from the class started with some turkey legs and the wings and neck.  Last year, I went out and bought the legs, but they were kind of expensive and hard to find.  This year, I noticed that Costco had some smaller fresh turkeys available, so I figured I could fabricate it for the legs and use the rest in another way. Good choice, if perhaps a bit more work than I expected.  I've also requested a good boning knife on my Christmas list to replace the not-so-good-one we've been using for a utility knife since Len got it from a friend of his years ago.

My friend Gillian arrived for dinner with individual oyster pies--kind of like oyster stew with a cracker topping--and salmon mousse for appetizers.  I love them, but they are something my husband won't touch.  More for me.  Liz and Ed arrived and made a salad of mixed greens, pomegranate, blue cheese, and pecans, with a pomegranate dressing, which they plated for everyone.

I managed to get the table set ahead of time (hooray for finally having enough room for things) and we moved the living room furniture into the media room.  Turns out, we could have kept the couch in its place, but it was nice to have a cozy sitting room for appetizers and to retire to after supper. In the photograph above, you can see the red couch in the room behind my standing husband, and salads in front of the diners (Kelsey Nixon's cranberry salad, described below, in the large blue bowl on the right.)

A couple of years ago, I found a great recipe for a sweet potato souffle by Martha Rose Shulman in the New York Times.  It has become a Thanksgiving favorite, replacing the old canned yams with marshmallows everyone thinks they want and nobody eats.  This gets eaten up and it is so light.  Souffles are not that difficult, once you get past the perfection fear factor.

Harlan Ellison gave me the mother of all potato ricers as a gift several years ago (one of those years where he bailed on Thanksgiving at the last minute) and it does make for excellent mashed potatoes.  Fortunately, there's always someone willing to lend the muscle to do the work while I busy myself with other things.  This year it was Lisa, who got through all 10 pounds of potatoes with little difficulty.  The ricer comes from Williams Sonoma and it is much nicer and larger than the mid-century one I got from my mother's kitchen years ago.

I tried a new recipe for a cranberry side this year that I found on Kelsey Nixon's website.  Kelsey was a contestant on Next Food Network Star about three years ago and she's got a new show on the Cooking Channel.  It is her family's recipe for a cranberry salad and the link is here to Kelsey's Kitchen.  It was a bit 1950s--Gillian or Jim referred to it as ambrosia,  since it contained tiny marshmallows and whipped cream.  I'm not sure I'd make it again for dinner--it makes a huge amount--but I might very well make it for our party.  It is quite pretty.  When I served left-overs, it made a great presentation in a divided bowl with cranberry sauce.  I'm sorry I don't have pictures of it.

My friend Jim made a mushroom risotto with a hen of the woods wild mushroom he had gathered back in Wisconsin earlier in the Fall.  He proclaimed he had been eating it for several weeks without dying, so we need not worry.  It was about 20 pounds when he gathered it, and he brought it back to L.A. in a paper bag on the plane.  Good thing TSA didn't stop him.   It was very good and worth its weight in gold.

I made pie crust, puff pastry, and brioche dough from the recipes I got from the October baking class Michael and I took.  I planned to use it all or Thanksgiving.  I used some of the pie pastry to make pumpkin pies, but didn't get the rest made up.  So, with all of the leftover cooked turkey, I decided to try my hand at making pot pies with puff pastry crust. 
You know, it's easy to make them if you've already got puff pastry made.  I checked out an Ina Garten recipe and made adjustments for my ingredients.  My son and husband approved.

Sunday rolled around and it was time to face that partial turkey I still had in the fridge.  With a little help from Ina Garten, I managed to debone the thing.  Then I made up a stuffing recipe like my mother's and grandmother's (foregoing the one Ina had with sausage), spread it across my butterflied turkey (sans legs and wings), rolled it all up, and roasted it in the oven.  It is a lot faster than cooking a whole, stuffed bird.  Were it not for Len's (and Michael's) insistence on a traditional bird, I'd probably do it for Thanksgiving itself next year.  It was very moist and cooked in about two hours.  Then all you have to do is slice it.

I wound up with another eleven people for dinner on Sunday night, and the rolled bird (below) easily fed everyone.  It was also an excellent way to get rid of my leftover side dishes from Thanksgiving and I got to use the Lenox Holiday Christmas china for the first time this year.