Friday, January 31, 2014

Camaraderie and Culinary Delights

So it is a Friday night and maybe I should be whipping up some culinary delight, but instead I am watching the hours slip by from my couch, while trying to talk myself into making my grocery list.  It is the Super Bowl this weekend and typically that would have me excited, and part of me is, well at least I think it is, but it seems the closer and closer it gets, the more and more it weighs on me.  What I really want to do is scour the internet and my cookbooks for the most wonderful recipes and spend the day in my kitchen making a mess.  Then enjoy some good camaraderie and wonderful delicacies, over a back drop of some good football - with ViolinFingers (as Vanilla Bean dubbed her), and, of course, the Viking, too.  But ViolinFingers is no longer here, and I have a youth Super Bowl party - don't get me wrong, I love the youth, I love to hang out with them, and I would pick them for a Super Bowl party over many choice, but right now I miss ViolinFingers, I miss oohing and awing over new and wonderful culinary dishes that we've made, and what better time to do that then the Super Bowl, so today I am sad.
Don't worry, though, I will share some good food with you this evening.  This is a treat I afforded myself just before Thanksgiving, as I grieved the loss of ViolinFingers.  It was a recipe her and the Viking had shared with me and can be found in the cookbook they gave me one Christmas.  I won't mention I sequestered poor Vanilla Bean to the far reaches of the house by frying up these delicious strips of chicken, something about them stirred up her allergies something fierce, but the rest of us enjoyed them.

A Treasured Cookbook.

Thai Chicken Skewers with Side of Cucumber

Who could turn down this, well, other than Vanilla Bean.
Have a good Super Bowl and perhaps I will cook up something tasty.  And maybe somehow I will manage to swing by the Viking's for a little camaraderie, Super Bowl worthy snacks, and football.  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

(Belated) Thanksgiving Survey Results

I was going through a notebook from last fall and realized I had never posted the results to the pre-Thanksgiving survey.  (Original post HERE).

It turned out to be a fun survey.  The reliability or accuracy of the results, though...that might be more than a bit on the questionable side.  (Half of my respondents were classmates from other parts of the world who have likely never celebrated a Thanksgiving meal before but who were kind enough to take my survey/give me fake results so that I would have enough responses to complete the project.)  So, without further ado or disclaimers, here are some of the results for your amusement:

Who knew? Thanksgiving has transitioned into an international holiday! We had survey takers from all around the world- Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe.  Only South America appears to be a continent still in need of embracing this North American institution. Computer use also appears to have spiked  in the centenarian population.  A whopping four  centenarians took my survey!  I think perhaps I should have added some celebratory cake to the imaginary menu.

Nearly everyone was serving meat on the table (75%) with most opting for the traditional turkey. Even a few terduckens made an appearance.

In the savory sides department- mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, fried sweet potatoes/yams, noodles, and stuffing/dressing (>40%  of all meals served) were the most likely choices hitting the table s to stuff us to the gills. Along with the turkey and sides, a few included a  healthy salad (35%) to balance things out.  Also, add some cranberries to your meal order.  Seventy five percent agreed, hands down, that they thought cranberries needed to be on the Thanksgiving table.  That's more votes than even the turkey got! (50%)  What everyone was a little more divided about, however, was the particulars of just how to eat those cranberries - jellied, relish, some other way... And only a very small fraction were open to eating them any way they could get them. They wanted cranberry, and they wanted them their way.

But last of all PIE! Everyone (er, or 90% of everyone)  loves pie. Especially if it comes in pumpkin, chocolate, or apple.   Cherry? Peach? Mincemeat? Pecan? We've got takers for those too! Which is perfect actually, because today turns out to be National Pie Day.

Happy memories of Thanksgiving eating, everybody. Maybe, I'll just have to go make a January pie... It is National Pie Day after all.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Fine Hobbits' Feast….but we forgot the Hobbits

As usual, this Christmas, we all gathered together, to spend a day together, but this year we had a theme in honor of JRR Tolkein's famous Hobbits.  I think initially the plan included a viewing of the new Hobbit movie together as a family - some of us did watch last year's Hobbit movie - I was a little tired and chose to sleep instead, being tired tends to make me moody, so hopefully I wasn't too much of a bear.  Now to let you in on our fine feast.

If you are familiar with Hobbits, you know that they enjoy their food, and they are known to have six meals a day - we did not have 6 meals.  In case you were unaware of the six meals, here is a little quote from Fellowship of the Rings : 
Aragom: Gentlemen, we do not stop 'til nightfall.    Pippin: What about breakfast?  Aragom: You've already had it.   Pippin:We've had one, yes.  What about second breakfast?  [Aragon turns and walks off in disgust]  Merry: I don't think he knows about second breakfast, Pip.  Pippen:  What about elevenses? Luncheon? Afternoon Tea? Dinner? Supper? He knows about them doesn't he?  Merry: I wouldn't count on it. 
 Umm…perhaps they had more than six.  We had breakfast, which could have past for elevenses, since we dilly-dallied around to it, and one late afternoon/early evening feast which could have spread out over several meals but instead supplied us with many leftovers to be enjoyed the rest of the holidays.

A lovely breakfast spread - cheese, bread, and some grapefruit and
oranges from Florida.

I actually began my feast preparations the evening prior.  Vanilla Bean had requested Bo Saam.  She had been planning for months to request this dish, and no matter what the menu this was on it.  (She didn't tell me until later, but she had told her friend Anna, who lost her battle with breast cancer in November, that this was what she was choosing, so there is no way that she was going to be talked out of it, not that we tried.)  It required a sugar and salt scrub, wrapped in saran wrap and placed in refrigerator over night.

The pork butt ready to be wrapped.

Ready for the refrigerator.
Bo Saam cooked, placed in a lettuce wrap with some rice, to be
topped with current sauce, sriracha, and/or ginger scallion sauce and
Gathering all the ingredients - or many of them- on Christmas morning.
Since Hobbits have English origins, Colonel Mustard decided we must have Fish and Chips.  Mom went to the task of making this.  What the Colonel didn't realize is that the recipe he gave included not only fish…and chips…it also included tarter sauce…..made with homemade mayonnaise….and a smashed pea dish.  Of course, mom, never one to be outdone, felt she needed to make all of it, so as the Colonel was unaware, she hopped about the kitchen all morning making these various dishes, only to have him say later, "Oh, I thought it was just fish and chips, you could have just done the fish and chips."  I for one am glad she made the smashed peas, I have never had smashed peas and they are quite good.  Now make sure you are not sour on the Colonel for all this work he put mom to, as all throughout the morning/afternoon, as dishes piled up, when he had some time, he was keeping the manageable.

Mom peeling potatoes. 
Mom and her homemade mayonnaise - it was a first
for her to make it.
Frying up the chips.
The fish ready to be served.
Smashed Peas.
Now Dad thought a Hobbit's Feast needs some rabbit.  So the Colonel was responsible for cooking rabbit.  It seems that Dad wanted the Colonel to shoot the rabbit too, but the one day that the Colonel had time to go out looking for a rabbit, it rained and the rabbits stayed home.  He didn't have much room for looking as it was, since he doesn't have a hunting licenses and he had to shoot on Mom and Dad's property.  We did see the rabbits out and about on Christmas Day, but it was a little late.  However, Vanilla Bean, had brought one home with her from the store, so we were in luck for our rabbit.  Perhaps another time we will hunt one down ourselves.

The Colonel Mustard and the Rabbit.
Skewered and drizzling with oil, later to be placed in the frying pan.
Into the frying pan.  Rabbit, bacon, figs, onion.
Cooked and ready for serving.
Now Mom thought, well all of us did, our feast needed some lembas bread.  Now she also felt we were missing some greens, so Dad along with the Lembas bread, made us a nice salad, including a homemade dressing.  The salad was a build your own salad since Vanilla Bean's allergies and the need for lettuce also with Bo Saam.  Vanilla Bean also made her own Lembas bread, that met her dietary restrictions.  I really liked our Lembas bread, however according to the quote below, I'm pretty sure Vanilla Bean's met the description better.
"Eat little at a time, and only at need.  Fro these things are given to serve you when all else fails.  The cakes will keep sweet for many many days, if they are unbroken and left in their leaf-wrappings, as we have brought them.  One will keep a traveler on his feet fro a day of a long labour, even if he be one of the tall men of Minas Tirith."  - The Fellowship of the Ring, "Farewell to Lorien
Dad starting the Lembas bread.
Dad working on the dressing, working the downstairs kitchen,
amongst his work gloves and other items.
The Salad with its dressing to the right just out of view and
toasted pear nut mixture in the background.

My request was for mushroom soup.  I once had a delicious mushroom bisque and thought this would be delightful.  Seeing as I always think of Hobbits as sort of outdoorsy sort of folk, I thought mushrooms would fit well.  So Vanilla Bean set about to make mushroom soup.  I was hard pressed in making my choice though and thought since we didn't have a dessert, I would also make my second choice of items along with my Bo Ssam - a Blackberry Blueberry Tart.  I ended up making two because Vanilla Bean needed a little different ingredients.  Till we got to the tart, we were all stuffed and none of us touched my tart, meanwhile Vanilla Bean devoured hers.

Vanilla Bean preparing the mushrooms.
Sautéing the mushrooms.
Into the soup pot.
Stirring the soup and checking the recipe.

The cornmeal I used was from a local source, I had picked it
up on a farm tour and had it in the freezer.
The Blackberry Blueberry Tarts.

We had quite the feast, but it seemed we are not hobbits, so we could not put the food away quite as well, but we did enjoy the leftovers.  It is a bummer that if you have some hobbit in you that we didn't invite you.

Starting to put the food on the table, there on the plates is the
lembas bread, wrapped in homemade cloth leaves - Vanilla Bean's diet
does not include banana leaves or anything like that.  The Colonel
anxiously awaiting.

Ah…now that is a spread.  I was supposed to bring some Ale81, but
I forgot to get it and the store I get it from was not open, so I found this
Chai Cola, which was quite tasty.
Another look, it seams we had forgotten the fish and chips before.
Now Christmas Eve was a rather chilly one, not as chilly as we had this week, but cold enough as it was.  Vanilla Bean was showing Dad what she had made him for Christmas, and he was informing her, it would have been nice to have it the day before, when his tractor wouldn't shift above second gear because it didn't like the cold and he had to slowly putt-putt-putt the 9 miles home from the fix it shop.

Father and Daughter enjoying Christmas Day.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Have you ever had gnocchi? (pronounced no-kee.... I think)  They are an Italian specialty made of potato and flour and then boiled in water. They have a sort of noodle or dumpling type texture and take most of their flavor from the sauce.

The first time I ever had gnocchi, they were "the real deal", that is made to perfection by an Italian family.  It was mid-afternoon in an Italian restaurant somewhere in the German city of Karlsruhe or its suburb Neureut.  Connie and Cati had taken me (and several of their friends) to Cati's family's restaurant.  I had never heard of gnocchi before, and I was fascinated by these tiny fat little pieces.  I don't know that I particularly believed their assertion that these tasty little noodles drowning in tomato sauce were actually made from potatoes.  Let me just say, they were really good, and (ahem) many years later they still hold a fond place in my memory bank of tasty foods I have had in my life.

Having heard me talk about them, my sister gifted me with a cute little gnocchi board this Christmas.  I am not sure that my  version of sweet potato gnocchi would pass muster against "the real deal" gnocchi, but they were very fun to make and quite cute with their orderly little ridges formed by my new gnocchi board.  While I did a more ad hoc, play it by ear kind of recipe making with this batch, I essentially modified this recipe from And used a video or two from youtube to figure out how use the gnocchi board.  

Since I wasn't so sure how a sweet potato gnocchi would go with tomato sauce, we served it instead with a spinach parmesan alfredo sauce.  (Basic white sauce with garlic powder, salt, parmesan and cooked spinach to taste.)  Lovely and comforting for a chilly winter afternoon.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

sweet potatoes

*peel and quarter several sweet potatoes
*boil in salted water
*mash sweet potatoes once soft
*allow butter to melt into the potatoes
*add flour in 1/2 cup batches until you have a soft workable dough
*roll piece of the dough into longer strips
*break off 1/2 " to 1" pieces
*roll the (well floured) pieces down over the gnocchi board with your thumb
*place the gnocchi on a tray or pan separated enough that they are not touching
*boil the gnocchi in a salted pot of water, allowing them to boil for about 3-5 minutes after they rise to the surface
*serve with your sauce of choice
*freeze any extra (uncooked) gnocchi  for another time