Archive | November, 2011

Thanksgiving’s Samba Beat: Mexicali Trot Enchiladas

28 Nov

Is Stephen horrified? Pleased? Delighted? Disgusted? I doubt even he knows. Welcome to the holiday season, folks.

Thanksgiving is so hard to pin down.

Time to roll!

It’s a series of smiles, grimaces, guffaws, silent primal screams behind closed doors, cries of panic in the night, unsuccessful attempts to find a small island for your happy place as a heaving storm of personality quirks breaks at the dangerously eroded shores of your sanity.

Lifeguard! (Or, in my case, bartender!)

Make it a double, Dad.

Stick of melted butter with parsley and salt lathered on the skin, cheesecloth, half-stick of cold butter in chunks. Divine.

But then before you know it, 12 hours have passed – your home is squeaky clean, your oven is packed to the gills, your living room is full of screaming relatives, you’ve been sipping wine and popping cubes of incredible blue cheese in your mouth for hours, and it’s time for dinner.

Blink.

You’re done, darling (now you just have to do the dishes).

But my favorite part of Thanksgiving? The leftovers.

My fridge looks like it is being held hostage by an obese family of 20 who has stocked up just in case of famine. It’s thrilling! I can’t help but open it and just peek every once in a while at the possibilities.

Burnt pumpkin, pumpkin mousse or apple? Apple every time.

My mind, still addled from the holiday hoopla, wandered all weekend. It took my body (and Stephen and Penny’s) for a jaunt to the house that has been abandoned near our own home. It’s the talk of our little town, and I’ve heard at least a dozen different rumors about its owners and the reasons for which it has been left in the state of low-rent Grey Gardens decrepitude to which it rather picturesquely sunk, apparently many years ago.

Insert ailin' well pun here

Bringing the organic design concept full circle; a tree-house for the "new economy"

The driveway has been subsumed by hungry weeds

Penny busts a move for the exit

It’s the perfect post-Thanksgiving jaunt: surreal, creepy, almost inspiring in its mule-headed refusal to keep up with the world around it, just like everyone’s favorite wacky uncle.

Between little field trips around our ‘hood, cackling with delight at our newly messy but blissfully empty house, celebrating our holiday weekend with early happy hours and eating pie for breakfast (my mom won the annual Willcox Thanksgiving pie-making contest with her incomparable apple; we both made pumpkin – both were good, but nothing’s like her gorgeous and delicious apple), we munched on turkey clubs until we didn’t want to look at mayo or toast for at least an hour.

To tide us over, I made a batch of turkey enchiladas that sway to the post-Thanksgiving slurry, bloated beat with a Mexican samba. Oh, baby, arriba!

Farewell, Thanksgiving.

Bring it on holiday season!

A welcome e-visit from Amy and Beth in Providence. Keep it real, ladies.

Click on for the recipe.

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Stir It Up: Thanksgiving Prep & Quick Purple Kale & Truffled Fig Tartlet

21 Nov

Stephen and Penny go rock scuttling

Thanksgiving is an amazing opportunity to give your families that extra special something, and every year, I knock it out of the park.

Whether I’m the guest or the host at Thanksgiving, by now, the whole fam knows they can count on me. A handful of crying jags, five to 10 panicked phone calls instructing folks en route to pick up five pounds of butter (there’s never enough!!), bringing up the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with family members with whom I do not share kindred partisan views and finally, chugging a glass of merlot and waxing nonsensical about current events (this year: Occupy Wall Street!) just as everyone’s relaxing and beginning to enjoy themselves, is just par for the endless Thanksgiving course.

It gets me warmed up for Christmas, when I really like to go on a tear.

Instead of admitting that my outbursts are due to a personality disorder and consulting members of the medical establishment, I choose to believe that my unhinged holiday behavior is caused by lack of planning. Surely, if I made a list of duties and let other people cook too, everything would be as smooth and flawless as perfectly whipped mashed potatoes (I just have to make sure whoever’s mashin’ em uses a ricer, and not, God forbid, a mixer, because that would be a red button excessive glutton-causing crises, we’d be dead in the water).

This year, I’m turning over a new leaf. I will withstand the pressure of 1,002 TMI updates on the status of various family members’ overactive sebaceous glands, and 52 straight hours of Fox News at full blast. I started cooking this week and I’m outsourcing half the courses.

My version of getting organized in the kitchen -- all cabinets open, the counters covered

My mom is bringing a salad, cheese, nuts, a pecan pie. Stephen is making cranberry sauce, his specialty. My dad will whip the potatoes when the time comes, and I won’t say a word if and when he whips out the mixer (which will never happen, because I’m going to hide it). All I have to do is brine and roast a turkey, make the stuffing and some of the fixin’s, and … enjoy myself.

The monastery looks like an abandoned station in the Dharma Initiative, straight out of Lost, minus the menace.

This weekend, Stephen and I walked in the woods, tinkered with the house, checked out the monastery around the corner, found a new favorite restaurant (The Terrace Club in Mahopac) and cooked up a storm.

We saw dozens of types mosses and lichens blooming from rocks on our walk

Enchanting

Thursday, I’m going to make riffs on Ina Garten and Giada de Laurentiis’s recipes for stuffing, this one for the actual turkey; I started chopping veggies and itemizing shopping lists on Saturday.

On Sunday, I whipped up bases for my country gravy (using a fantastic recipe in my Culinary Institute of America cookbook), my pie filling (I love Grace Parisi’s recipe), sable cookie dough for my brother in law (I seal the dough in the fridge and I’ll roll it out on Thursday morning; I’ll use my mother in law’s cookie cutters to shape the cookies), a basic truffle aioli (for dip and breadsticks wrapped with prosciutto), to make Thursday easier. Plus, some Stir-Fried Purple Kale and Collard Greens and a Truffled Fig and Goat Cheese Tartlet, to keep our engines revved while we worked.

Click on for the greens and tart recipe!

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Get Pumpkined: Mac and Cheese & Molten Pumpkin Chocolate Cakes & Squashed Squash Souffle

14 Nov

My mom, slowly losing her mind as we spend our Sunday afternoon drowning in packing peanuts; we finished with just enough time left for Pumpkin Chocolate Cake-baking.

Using a recipe to make good ol’ Mac and Cheese from grand kitchen pooh-bah Grant Achatz feels vaguely ludricous, like asking Arizona Muse how to grow sassy eyebrows, or asking the sun what yellow feels like.

Does Grant even acknowledge Mac and Cheese? Hasn’t he evolved to a station in which he requires food in powder or foam form to recognize it’s reason for existence? Isn’t he too busy sketching pictures of Roasted Maitake Mushrooms with Chestnuts, Roasted Vegetables and Autumnal Aromas or freeze-drying Pineapple Chips and Cherries for his Powdered Ham and Clove dish to consume, much less prepare, a lowly meal consisting of carbs and dairy products that haven’t been shot out of cannon or chanted over by a wizard in a green teepee?

Thankfully, no. And I decided to give his refreshingly simple recipe for Mac and Cheese a whirl. One of the marvelous side effects of eating basic food made with a great chef’s recipe is the manner in which the dish is reinvigorated; the flavors sing, in their most elemental, yet elevated form.

The macaroni, in Grant Achatz’s hands, becomes the all-American carb and dairy fest it always is, underpinned with assertive waves of BBQ (it tasted like a smoke-bomb, in a good way, probably due to the paprika and cayenne sauteed at the same time as the onions and infused into the roux), grilled cheese (the topping of simply grated cheese, cooked until crisp) and … bacon (chopped and fried); in other words, he unlocked the key to the holy Trinity of classic edible American childhood, and I served it for dinner.

In addition to my usual carb splurge, I wanted to get a handle on the growing pile of pumpkins and squash in my kitchen. I got a bumper crop of sweet pumpkins and squash from Cascade Farm this week, and I celebrated with a batch of Molten Chocolate Pumpkin Mini Cakes and a Slightly Squashed Squash Souffle. No matter how gently I fold my egg whites into my soufflé, it never holds the super high rise I want it too, probably because I cram too much cheese into it. But it certainly tastes good on a chilly Sunday morning.

Click on for recipes!

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Five-Year Anniversary on Ice: Italian Bean and Kale Soup & Roasted (Acorn or Butternut) Squash

7 Nov

The view from my car as I waited for the road to clear on the second day of my longest commute home, like, eva'

When Stephen and I got married, we spent about a year engaged … in combat. Most couples seem to spend their engagement sipping hot cocoa, gazing worshipfully into each others eyes and saying adorable things in unison. We went the Bickersons route, and no road was too low for us to heedlessly gallop into.

But it was fun too. We managed to get all of our real ragers out of the way before we said our vows, and in between over-reacting to the other one’s egregious suggestions for the registry (“You like ecru placemats? I can’t marry someone who likes ecru place mats”) and make-up sessions, we found time to dream about our lives together.

It was a tense, fluttery rapid-heartbeat period of intense emotional, psychological and intellectual fencing, during which boundaries were tested, various territories were colonized and vast uncharted territories were explored.

Wild visions ensued. But never, in my most maudlin forecast, did I predict that I would spend our fifth wedding anniversary by myself in a cold, locked car at a Valero’s gas station under a bridge on Route 6 in Brewster. Stephen, meanwhile, was clutching our tick-covered dog on our living-room couch in front of the woodstove as a wet fire sputtered and spittered at him. (Thank you massive Nor’Easter!) Mother Nature, what a pal.

The lovely vista out my window under the bridge on a very, very long anniversary evening

Poor Stephen warmed a can of pork and beans on the stove top and ate it, hobo style, straight from the tin between bouts of MapQuesting and conversations with State Troopers to find out if he could either a) direct me on a safe, unclogged route home or b) come and save me.

Meanwhile, I tried to unwind from my hairy post-catering gig drive up 684 past downed trees, live, snaking power lines and cars overturned in ditches. It took me about 2 hours to drive what would normally take 20 minutes, and finally, the State Troopers pulled the plug on my little odyssey by shutting down the Interstate.

I wanted nothing more than to get home to Stephen, pick a fight about place mats for old time’s sake and kick back with a Six Point Sweet Action. Instead, I chatted with my new neighbors, changed my wet socks, threw on an extra scarf and the black velvet turban that my Mom gave me (I keep in my glove compartment to don during faux-crises because it’s ridiculous and it always makes me happy to wear ridiculous things), torn red mittens and puttered around the powerless Valero’s that valiantly stayed open and let all of my fellow stranded travelers eat our carrot cake, drink vats of coffee and munch on sunflower seeds while consulting our smart-phones for road conditions and gabbing about our travails that evening so far. Stephen and I stayed in touch, we both tried to stay warm, and neither of us slept more than a wink or two.

Day broke over my frosty car like a shattering bone china plate; I didn’t know whether I should cry or marvel at the glorious, stunning shards of destruction scattered around me. To my right, a young mother nursed her baby in her Suburban while her mother tried to keep them both calm. To my left, an elderly couple played what appeared to be a contentious round of Gin-Rummy in a pick-up Chevy.

Stephen called me, for the umpteenth time and we made the umpteenth plan for my escape; previous efforts to break out of Valero’s were stymied by downed Evergreens, overturned semi’s, countless minor and major accidents, but primarily, by Mother Nature, who is fond of running amok with dirty icicles. Stephen couldn’t even make it out of the driveway.

Twelve hours after I’d headed home, I pulled into the driveway. Stephen was waiting outside with a face as chapped from the cold and a cackle as unhinged from the storm as mine.

As our new neighbor said: “Welcome to the country.”

We salvaged a lot of the weekend from Mother Nature’s ravenous fun-munching raptors; Stephen’s surprise little vacation (I knew we were going, just didn’t know where), was unmolested. We headed to Saratoga and hid from our powerless, icy home, drank delicious Six Point beers, pigged out on chocolate and wild game, drank gallons of samples of different Saratoga Springs (who knew water could have so many complex flavors?), and didn’t get into a single fight about place mats.

The first spring we sampled

This man has serious business here, stop bothering him

Are you paying attention over there?

Note this hole!

My favorite thing about our marriage? Getting the engagement out of the way, so we could get to the really good stuff.

When we came home, we were still without power, but when it came on, I made some country classics to patch us through until the next storm. Click on for recipes for a hearty Italian-style vegetarian soup, and some fabulously rich-tasting roasted squash.

Our woodfire stove kept us nice and toasty (kinda!); I baked potatoes in a tin pouch in the fire, because I get cranky without carbs, and we were sick of chips.

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