November 23, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving approaching, many of us contemplate the myriad blessings in our lives, but my mind turns to the most important part of Thanksgiving, the food. This year I'm bringing Roasted Turkey and Gravy, Mashed Potatoes, and Pumpkin Cheesecake to the table.

So far, I've cleaned my kitchen, thawed a turkey, and prepared the mirepoix for the turkey roasting pan.

When I wake up, I'll rub the bird down with melted butter, salt, pepper, cumin, ginger, and perhaps some other herbs and spices before it goes in the oven. I like to wing it. Get it? Then I'll get the gravy going.

I'm excited about this pumpkin cheesecake. It's cooling down now.

If there's any baking that makes me quake in my boots, it's baking cheesecakes in a water bath. Water always manages to seep into my springform pans, no matter what precautions I take. Double wrapping the pan with heavy duty foil doesn't seem to prevent leaks. We'll see if I fared better this time.

Also on this Thanksgiving Eve, Mom suggested that we start a tradition of watching On Moonlight Bay (starring Doris Day and Gordon McRae) the night before Thanksgiving because of the funny turkey scene. But the scene is actually in the movie's sequel, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, which we didn't have. We watched On Moonlight Bay anyway, and still enjoyed it. Here's the Thanksgiving scene from By the Light of the Silvery Moon:

We all have to go sometime.

November 14, 2011

Salmon Rillettes

It seems like these days you can't turn around without finding me talking about another Dorie Greenspan recipe. And this post is no different. I can't help it. Truly. The more Dorie recipes I make, and the more Dorie cookbooks and writing I read, and the more I think about how wonderfully friendly she was when I met her, the more I like her. I have quite a growing collection of her cookbooks -
Here's a lovely recipe from Around My French Table for Salmon Rillettes.

Salmon Rillettes

The recipe combines fresh and smoked salmon with a little bit of spice and a good bit of butter to form a spread that is fantastic on crackers or baguette slices. Here's a video of Dorie demonstrating how to make it:

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It's very nice at dinner alongside a salad...

Salmon Rillettes

...and fits just as well at a party buffet. Nice that you can make it ahead, too!

I planned to make some for a party I hosted this weekend, but I ran out of time and put this on my table instead!

Equally festive, right?

November 8, 2011

Chocolate Rules

I'm all about the recipe contests now. Not that I've entered any since the Callebaut chocolate recipe contest, but now I believe half the battle is just showing up.

Here's a contest that I think we should all enter: Elevate a classic dessert with Scharffen Berger Chocolate. Take a familiar recipe and give it a new spin by adding Scharffen Berger chocolate. The grand prize is $10,000.

I started crafting a list of rules for what makes a good recipe. This is for myself when I'm searching for recipes or, I suppose, for when I'm creating one. You can often tell by simply reading the list of a recipe's ingredients whether you should even bother with it. Here are a few of my rules for dessert recipes:
  • No Cool Whip or "frozen whipped topping." Just no.
  • Also no instant pudding mix.
  • Ingredients should be listed in the order in which they'll be used.
  • Should include a good photo (that doesn't use flash).
  • I'm turned off anytime a recipe calls for melting chocolate chips. Chocolate chips have additives to help them retain their shape. Buy chocolate and chop it.
  • Related: Chocolate should be listed by weight, not volume. "1/2 cup" of chocolate doesn't tell me anything, but "4 ounces" of chocolate, I can work with.
  • You get much more chocolate flavor if you use melted chocolate and not cocoa powder alone.
  • Be suspicious of margarine and shortening.
  • Reading reviewer comments is very helpful, but take reviews with a grain of salt. Look for clues to indicate whether the person has skills or not. Reviewers may rate a recipe very low but give themselves away by saying they prefer frosting out of can. Ought oh! We know you can't cook and we're questioning your taste.
Sure, you can ignore those rules, but chances are that the recipe will be closer to good than to amazing, and if you're going to the trouble of making a homemade dessert, why not aim for excellence? Or pick up something good at the supermarket instead?

Individual Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Sauce

Any inspiration or ideas for the chocolate contest? Any recipe rules you stick to?

November 7, 2011

Can a PB&J sandwich be snobby?

(I don't want to abandon this blog, so I'm going to try writing shorter, more frequent posts. We'll see how that goes.)

Today for lunch I am eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. That might not sound appealing but I judged it to be one of the better sack lunches I've eaten. Here's why:

The peanut butter I used was Cream Nut Natural Peanut Butter from Koeze. Koeze makes old-fashioned peanut butter (just Virginia peanuts and salt) and has been since 1925.

The "jelly" is Wild Blackberry & Elderflower Conserve from American Spoon. They describe their preserves as "Spoon Preserves" because they're more suited to spooning than spreading with a knife. Their preserves certainly have more pieces of whole fruit than any other I've tried. It makes me think that their farmers are skipping up and down beside wild blackberry patches, plucking berries off the bushes to fill their handbaskets, while singing in four-part harmony. In the kitchen, they "prepare fruits by hand and cook them in small copper kettle batches." The fruit doesn't seem mashed or over-sweetened in the slightest.

The bread is a multigrain loaf from a local CSA, charitably donated to me. Thanks, Mom! And my beverage of choice is 33 cl of Perrier. I developed a little addiction to the eaux minérales gazeuses in Europe last month.

And yes, I use the same knife for the peanut butter as I do for the jelly. Do you?