Saturday, November 29, 2008

Don't buy bargain brand plastic wrap or aluminum foil

Life's too short for cheap aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Chintzy foil results in tears....always buy the heavy duty stuff...I prefer Reynolds Wrap. I also prefer Saran Wrap because it sticks to most everything and is thick. But the best reason to buy name brand wraps is the box locks.
See the tab on the end of the box? If you push it in, it will hold the roll in the box so it won't go flying out of the box when you try to pull it out. Check out your favorite brand and see if it has box locks before you buy it again.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Note to self: what I did for Thanksgiving this year

1. I cleaned out the fridge last weekend, to make room for the turkey. I've got to remember to do that every year. This was a great help and a joy every time I opened up the door. I hate cleaning the fridge, but it was well worth it.

2. I bought an 11.5 lb. Bell and Evans bird this year and brined it in 2 cups kosher salt, 1/2 gallon of water and 1.5 gallons of ice cubes. It fit in a Playmate cooler and I started the brine about 2 pm yesterday afternoon.

3. I made the dough for rolls using my blogging friend TennZen's recipe in my breadmaker, but had to clean out the entire pantry to find the little paddle thing that mixes the dough in the bottom of the machine. It had an inch of dust on it, too. I think I can move the bread maker to the downstairs storage. On the plus side, the pantry closet is now clean. This dough was fairly wet - I cut it into balls and am making cloverleaf rolls out of them in a muffin pan.

4. I got the bird in the oven at 12:30 pm. I rubbed it with poultry seasoning and butter and started it out face down on the V rack for 45 minutes at 400 F.

5. I listened to "Turkey Confidential" on the Splendid Table and I am psyched that Nora Ephron made a movie based on the book "Julie and Julia" which is an inspirational book to read. However, I highly recommend Nora's books "Crazy Salad" and "Heartburn" which are much better.

Gotta go for now. Time for cocktails - the bird is in the oven!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Note to self: items I buy that can support the school

Since I am a vocal opponent of school fundraisers and have convinced my PTO to partake in ones that build community or don't require spending money on things I don't need, it's my obligation to clip coupons for the products I buy. Our school collects Labels for Education, Box Tops for Education and Tyson A+. I don't think I buy a great deal of prepared foods, but there are some things I do buy. Here's a list of what I buy so I can remember what to clip - check on the links for items you buy and start clipping! I figure I am excused from having to buy gift wrap ever again....

Labels for Education:
Save just the UPC code for this stuff - we don't get money, just points
  • Campbell's soup
  • Swanson broth
  • Pepperidge Farm
  • Franco-American gravy

Box Tops for Education:

Save the coupon - each one is worth 10 cents

  • Betty Crocker or Pilsbury mixes or refrigerated/frozen dough
  • Cheerios
  • Cascadian Farms cereal
  • Old El Paso taco shells
  • Hefty trash bags
  • Hefty paper plates
  • Totino's pizza rolls
  • Chex snack mix
  • Fiber One bars
  • Zip-lock bags and containers
  • Saran Wrap

Tyson Foods - worth 24 cents

Cut on dotted line and include Tyson A+ label

Pretty much every chicken product they sell!

Who doesn't have to buy an occasional chicken nugget every once in a while? Or some Campbell's soup? Or pizza rolls for slumber parties? I guess I buy prepared food more often than I realize.

The Day Before Thanksgiving Ritual

Here it is, the day before Thanksgiving. Time for brining the bird, baking the pies, cleaning the house, etc. Also time for my annual recipe reading. Every year, without fail, my good friend Ann will call and ask me to read to her some of her own recipes because she can't find hers. I know what this feels like - that's why I started blogging my favorites so I'd know where to find them. Sure enough, I got the call this morning. Ann is looking for her mother's recipe for layered cranberry salad. I had to dig deep into the kitchen junk drawer, but here it is, in her mother's beautiful 80 year old lady penmanship. Her wonderful mom's been gone for several years, but her cranberry salad recipe lives on.

It is a wonderful recipe for Thanksgiving - I made it once, but making Jello based recipes are always a challenge for me. It's embarrassing to admit, but I suck at making Jello. Anyway, when I made this cranberry salad, it came out wonderful, but I couldn't stop freaking out about whether it would come out of the pan. I think I have some kind of Jello post traumatic stress disorder or something. I'm definitely blocking some repressed Jello memory. Maybe I tried to make jello with fresh pineapple and it didn't set up right? Perhaps it was the year I made a red white and blue striped jello for a 4th of July picnic and it melted because it was 102 F outside. I don't know what it is, but the thought of making jello makes me want to hide under the kitchen table and rock back and forth and suck my thumb.

For Ann and the rest of you brave souls out there, looking for a great cranberry recipe for Thanksgiving, here's the recipe:

Layered Cranberry Salad

Cranberry Layer

2 envelopes Knox gelatin
3/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. boiling water
1 c. chilled ginger ale
1 1/2 c. ground cranberries

Cream Layer
3 envelopes Knox gelatin
6 T. sugar
1 1/4 c. boiling water
3 c. sour cream
2 1/2 cups lemon or lime sherbet, softened
1 1/2 c. coarsely chopped walnuts

For cranberry layer: mix gelatin and sugar in a medium bowl. Add boiling water and stir. Stir in ginger ale and cranberries. Pour into a fluted tube pan that you've sprayed with cooking spray. Chill until almost set.

For creamy layer: mix gelatin with sugar in a large bowl. Add boiling water and stir with a wire whip or rotary beater, blend in sour cream and sherbet. Let stand until slightly thickened. Fold in walnuts and spread over cranberry layer and chill until firm. Makes 16 servings.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Olga's Kitchen Bread

Do you love the bread from Olga's Kitchen? We do, too. I worked at Olga's when I was in high school as a waitress/hostess, and during that time, the Detroit Free Press printed the recipe for the bread. I clipped in out way back then and still have the yellowed recipe 30 years later. It went away with me to college; it survived undergrad, grad school and the 3 moves I've had since graduating. Now I must blog it so I can have it for perpetuity! Did you know that Olga's started out in Birmingham, Michigan?

Olga Bread

1 cup milk
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup margarine (I use butter)
1 teaspoon salt
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 egg

Scald milk, remove to large bowl. Add honey, margarine and salt to milk; stir until margarine is melted. Set aside to cool until lukewarm. Combine yeast, warm water and sugar; stir until sugar is dissolved. Set aside.

Add 1 1/2 cups of the flour to lukewarm milk mixture and beat well. Mix in egg and yeast mixture. Add remaining flour, a little at a time, until sticky dough is formed. Turn out on a floured surface; knead about two minutes. Dough will be sticky, but don’t add more flour. Place dough in oiled bowl, turning once to oil whole surface of dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand in warm place until doubled in bulk. Punch down dough; divide into 16 equal pieces. Roll each piece to a thin rough circle about 1/8 inch thick and 8-10 inches in diameter.

Heat a large dry skillet over medium-high heat; do not use any oil. Bake 15 seconds, flip and bake about 10 seconds on other side, until mottled brown spots appear. Do not over cook. Cool and store in a plastic bag, use them at once or refrigerate or freeze. Makes 16.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pie Crust Rehab

Okay, the planets have aligned. Time for my long overdue post about getting over your fear of pie crust. Yes, you too can make your own pie crust. You don't have to order pie from Zingerman's Bakehouse (the pecan pie cost $50) or Grand Traverse Pie Company (cherry pie is $25), and last time I checked, Jefferson Market didn't make pies, just cakes. Goodness gracious! You can do this yourself. I am here to talk you through it.

A couple blog posts ago, I talked about making pasties as a way to get through your pie crust phobia. It's still a good thing to try. But Thanksgiving is next week, so maybe you don't want to take a day out of your life to make pasties. I get, let's apply the pasty "lessons learned" right to a pie crust.

First, let us start with the recipe. It is the same recipe I used in 1978 in Hartsig Junior High Home Economics class, taught by Mrs. Ensley in Warren, Michigan. It is from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook and I don't think it has changed since then. It's what I call "Old Reliable" Pie Crust.

Old Reliable Pie Crust
Double crust

2 c. flour
1/2 t. salt
2/3 c. Crisco, cut up into pats. Buy it in stick form and keep it in the fridge
Cold water - maybe about 1/2 cup

Mix the flour and salt and then add Crisco, and mix it up with a fork, smashing the blobs of Crisco into the flour until the blobs are pea sized. Add some of the water and mix it in with the fork, and keep adding water until you can get the flour to hold together well. Don't be afraid to add too much water, despite what my 8th grade home ec teacher said. It's just as bad not to add enough. Form two balls that don't have a ton of cracks in them. If they have fissures in them, you need more water.

To roll it out, put a liberal amount of flour on the counter top. and flour your rolling pin. Smash the ball into a hockey puck shape, working it with your hands to avoid creating any cracks in it. If you can't get it into a puck, this is a sign that you haven't yet added enough water. Work some more in.

Gently roll it out. After every couple rolls with the pin, flip the crust over, adding a little flour if it is needed. If you have trouble flipping it over because it sticks, you're adding too much water during the mixing of the dough. On the other hand, if it is cracking up a great deal, you still haven't added enough water. A couple cracks are okay - just put some water on the fissure and gently put it back together and re-roll. However, more than a couple cracks, or if it is sticking a ton, no matter how much flour you've sprinkled, just scrap it and start over. Rerolling pie crusts makes them tough. If you were making pasties, I'd let it slide but pie is different. Shortening and flour are cheap. You can afford to make mistakes. Do you know how many pie crusts you could have made for the $50 you spent at Zingerman's for one pecan pie? Probably 100!

The perfect crust will just be on the verge of cracking, but won't actually crack if you handle it gently. That is the key to good pie just be on the verge of cracking. I roll out my crust right on my stone countertop, with lots of flour on the counter and sprinkled on top the puck to start. As soon as you've rolled out the crust, fold it in half and bring your pie pan next to the folded side; pick it up quick and put it in the pie plate and unfold. Voila!

Fill it, and similarly roll out the top and put it on; if your pie has a top. Hope this helps...if it doesn't, I'll be around on email this weekend. Give it a shot!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Authors I once really enjoyed...where are they now?

Robert Fulghum - His book "All I Need Really to Know I learned in Kindergarten" almost made me jump from Catholicism to Unitarianism. I haven't read the book since 1986; I wonder what I might think of it now. He is still around and lives in Seattle and Crete. If I ever find the book in the bookshelf, I'll have to give it a shot again.

Jeff Smith, a.k.a. The Frugal Gourmet. I loved his cookbooks and his show on PBS. My friend Ray and I would just refer to it as "Frugal", as in "Did you watch Frugal today?" He passed away in 2004, after he lost his PBS gig because of multiple accusations of sexual harassment and pedophilia. He denied it, and settled out of court. I still have some of his cookbooks somewhere. I should dig them out.

Garrison Keillor - yes, I know he is still in St. Paul. I currently listen to him every weekend. However, in the 1980s, I despised him and thought he was only for old geezers to listen to on the radio. Give me my Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, my Hoodoo Gurus, my TPOH instead of listening to that boring show out of the Twin Cities. Why would anyone go see the Prairie Home Companion there when you could go see The Replacements? However, somewhere along the way I read Lake Wobegon Days and got hooked on the tales of Norwegian bachelors, tuna hotdish and the Chatterbox Cafe. I guess, quoting a song I once liked by TPOH, that I'm an adult now. While TPOH, the Gurus and the New Bohemians are no longer making music that gets played on the radio, Keillor and his crew soldier on.

Martha Stewart - I mean the 1980s incarnation of her, not today's vintage. Back then, there was much pomp and circumstance. Very serious. Still Married to Andy Stewart. Just wrote "Entertaining". Her daughter Alexis wasn't a snotty radio host then, she was just a high schooler. Do you remember this version of her? My 20 year old self really loved her. She was so not my own mom. I loved how she wrote about growing up in Nutley, NJ and what good food should taste like. I couldn't wait for the magazine to show up in my mail box. My almost 45 year old self respects her, but I don't idolize her anymore. I haven't gotten her magazine for years, but I do get "Everyday Food" which is one of hers. And I really don't like her TV show. And after all these years, I've come to appreciate my own mom's , who could probably outgarden Martha Stewart and she doesn't even need a gardening staff to do it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Upper Peninsula Style Pasty

If Michigan ever declared a state food, what would it be? Cherries? Morels? Coney Dogs? Vernors? Pasties would be in the running. A pasty (rhymes with "nasty", but it definitely isn't) is like a beef pot pie, and you can buy them all over the place in the U.P. Yoopers usually eat them with ketchup, but I like mine with beef gravy or mustard on them. They are a wonderful filling meal for fall and winter. Labor intensive to make; I suggest you get together with a friend and make and freeze a batch. My friend Alison and I do so every November. We did just that yesterday - we started at about 10 am and were finished making a total of 52 pasties for the freezer by 3 pm. We rewarded ourselves with some Oxbow Hard Cider.

If you have pie crust phobia, you can get over it by making pasties. Pasty making is great for people that need "Pie Crust Rehab". The crust is very forgiving, and soon you will get used to what the right texture of crust should be with your hands. Too much or too little water, and you'll have trouble rolling them out. You'll get the hang of it because you will roll out many in the course of making pasties.

Even if you hate rutabagas, they are not optional in a pasty. Don't skip them - they will not turn out tasty if you skip them. You can dice all the vegetables and cut up the meat yourself, but it takes a long time to do so. If I am making 50 pasties, I use a food processor to cut the veggies. In the interest of time, I asked my favorite butcher Bob Sparrow to cut the meat for me. He was able to cut all the meat in 5 minutes - it would have taken me an hour. He also suggested sirloin tip instead of the usual round steak and his suggestion was a great improvement. This year was our best tasting pasties ever!

Pasties are traditionally eaten on Wednesday nights in the U.P. I'm not sure why....downstate, Wednesday was "Prince Spaghetti Night". Any Detroiters remember that?

This recipe makes about 15 pasties - Alison and I usually triple it.

U. P. Style Pasties

printer friendly

7 c. flour
3 tsp. salt
2 c. shortening
cold water

Mix flour and salt together, and cut in shortening until the mixture is pea sized. Add cold water slowly (about a cup) until the dough can stick together to form into a ball. Form into 15 balls about two inches in diameter. The goal is to roll out each pasty crust so it's about 8 inches in diameter.

To roll it out, put a liberal amount of flour on the counter top. and flour your rolling pin. Smash the ball into a hockey puck shape, working it with your hands to avoid creating any cracks in it. Gently roll it out. After every couple rolls with the pin, flip the crust over, adding a little flour if it is needed. If you have trouble flipping it over because it sticks, you're adding too much water during the mixing of the dough. Don't worry; just work some more flour into it. On the other hand, if it is cracking up when you try to flip it, it's too dry and you should try to work a little more water into it. The perfect crust will just be on the verge of cracking, but won't actually crack if you handle it gently. That is the key to good pie just be on the verge of cracking.

Don't worry if you have to rework the pasty dough - it's not critical that it's tender like it would be if you were making a pie. The same roll out technique I've described here will work for a pie crust, too. Pretty soon, you will know by touch if you have too much water or too little. After the first couple pasties, you will be a pie crust pro! Look out Martha Stewart! You can make pie for Thanksgiving everyone will love.

Pasty Filling
1 1/2 lb. sirloin tip trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch size cubes
1/2 lb. ground pork
Half of a large rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch sticks and stood up in the feed tube of your food processor and sliced using the thickest slicing blade you have - the thicker the better.
1 lb carrots, peeled and sliced in your food processor like the 'baga
1 large onion, cut in quarters and sliced as aforementioned vegetables
7 medium potatoes, diced
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
10 pats of butter

Mix all the ingredients together except the butter. Fill each pastry with a handful of filling, and top with a pat of butter. Fold over to form a pocket. Pinch closed and use a sharp knife to cut a couple vents in the top. On a parchment covered cookie sheet or jelly roll pan, bake in a 400 F oven for 30 minutes if you are planning on freezing them, 1 hour if you are planning on eating them now. If you freeze them, I generally thaw them out and heat them up for 30 minutes at 350 F.

Thrifty Saturday: Local Coupons

Times are tough here in Michigan, and saving money is back in style around here. Here's some local coupons I might use this weekend.

$5 off $50 at Morgan & York I wish I could use it on wine, but there's plenty of other things I like to buy there, like Calder Dairy ice cream, cheese and coffee.

Get 2 knives sharpened for free at Downtown Home and Garden I sharpen my own knives but it is always nice to get them professionally done once a year. Now is a good time, because of the holidays.

Get a $25 gift certificate for only $3 for Silvio's, the Earle, Damon's, Senor Lopez, Terry B's (in Dexter) Aubree's (in Ypsi). There's other choices, but these are the only ones I might order. You'll need to buy your gift certificates by Nov. 17 and use the coupon code DESSERT to get this price, but I have used these before and it works. Make sure to check out the details for the particular restaurant you are interested in - when the coupon can be used, etc.

$5 off $25 purchase at Dexter Pharmacy They have a nice selection of holiday items and greeting cards, plus they carry all sorts of various and sundry stuff for band students like valve oil and slide wax. My middle school daughter loves to shop for makeup there, too. Maybe I'll pick up some Christmas decorations.

Friday, November 14, 2008

5 stupid things I do in the kitchen

I was tagged by Kate at 4 Obsessions which is a fantastic Ann Arbor blog I read whenever Kate writes something. I love her taste in cooking and reading, and I sure wish I could knit as well as she does. I currently can only knit scarves. It's because I have the attention span of a gnat. However, I have found that knitting stops me from talking too much and compulsively volunteering for things during boring meetings, so I may need to do more of it! Anyway, Kate would like for me to write about 5 stupid things I do in the kitchen...can I limit it to 5? There's lots I could write about, but here I go:

1) I buy fruit and then let it rot in the fruit bowl. Today, I found 2 rotten apples and a tomato that had turned to soup in the bottom. Yuck!

2) I have two drawers full of food storage bowls, none of which I can find the lids for...but I can't bear to throw any out because they are still "good".

3) I have no idea what's in the back of my kitchen freezer. I really should clean it out and organize it.

4) On top of my fridge is jammed a million Campbell's soup labels and Box Tops for Education. I've been collecting them since my eldest started kindergarten; she is now in middle school. Sometimes, when I slam the fridge door, soup labels fall on the floor like snowflakes.

5) I bought a bottle of Frangelico last year, thinking it would taste good in apple cider. It doesn't, but I forgot I already tried this and bought another and rediscovered the same thing. Anyone have a good recipe that uses Frangelico? I've got lots to use up!

Let's see, who to tag?

The Hungry Masses Long time no is the time!
Dog Hill Kitchen
Life at the Burrow

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Cockaigne Cookbooks

One of my favorite blogs to read is TennZen, and recently, she wrote a post about her top 5 favorite cookbooks. I collect vintage cookbooks, and so I have more of them than any person rightly should, but I only keep a handful in the kitchen and use them often. Here's my list:

1. Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. I used BH&G in my 8th Grade Home Ec class at Hartsig Junior High School in Warren, Michigan, and it became the standard for me. The one I have in my kitchen is the one I got at my bridal shower in the early 1990s, but just yesterday, my sister in law gave me my mother-in-law's version from the 1950s. I love that hers features a recipe for a "liverwurst pineapple" - an appetizer that was liverwurst molded into a pineapple shape and covered with American cheese and olives. She also underlined the potato chips in the calorie counter section (7 chips contains 108 calories), which I am sure bummed her out. Also, on the back cover is the distinctive crop circle like brand of an electric stove burner, from accidentally setting the book on an uncooled coil. It was her well loved cookbook, and the 1990s version is one of mine as well. It's where I look first for any recipe.
2. Barefoot Countessa - the original cookbook. Every recipe in this book is a winner. The photography is beautiful, too. Try the French potato salad featured on the cover or the coconut cupcakes. Thank you Ina Garten.
3. I'm Just Here for the Food. I love every Alton Brown recipe I ever made, and I adore his show on the Food Network. I still need to get his second volume "I'm Just Here for More Food". Try the "No Backyard Babyback Ribs" or "Alabama Alchemy" recipe for collards to start.
4. The Ball Complete Book to Home Preserving - I usually buy a Ball Blue Book every year it changes - it's like a magazine for me, but this book is a great reference with many unique recipes.
5. Joy of Cooking. I have many versions of this book in my collection, but the one I keep in my kitchen is the one I got for my bridal shower. If you want to cook anything, you can find a recipe for it in this cookbook. I love that they used the term "cockaigne" - in medieval times meant a "mythical land of peace and plenty" to indicate their favorites recipes.
So, what are your Cockaigne cookbooks?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Halloween - my favorite holiday

I went to the funeral of a work friend that died of a brain tumor way too young with two little kids on Thursday. I got the news that our remaining cat is dying and we need to put her down and a friend's marriage is dying and it's also getting "put down". I was really sad yesterday. Halloween is always my favorite holiday and we'd invited the neighbors over for dinner. I really wasn't in the mood.

Pagans believe that the dead intermingle with the living on Samhain (Halloween). We Catholics saw a good marketing opportunity in capitalizing on pagan feasts, so in 835, Pope Gregory IV moved the celebration for all the martyrs (later all saints) from May 13 to November 1. The night before became known as All Hallow’s Even or “holy evening.” Eventually the name was shortened to the current Halloween. On November 2, the Church celebrates All Souls Day. The purpose of these feasts is to remember those who have died, whether they are officially recognized by the Church as saints or not. It is a celebration of the “communion of saints,” which reminds us that the Church is not bound by space or time.

Interestingly, among all this sadness, there was joy. We had a lovely dinner of scary looking food and it was such a warm starry night we sat outside while the kids trick or treated for the first time all by themselves. Our house is in the darkest part of the neighborhood, deep in the woods and up the hill, so we don't get lots of trick or treaters. They tend to congregate in the "pasture palace" close packed end of the subdivsion where there's no trees and a greater return on their labor. As a kid, I would have done the same thing. Despite this, I still fire up the smoke machine, carve the pumpkins, hang up the orange lights and hope someone can enjoy the show. Sitting on a kitchen chairs drinking one of my favorite wines with my neighbors and later on eating Dexter Cider Mill donuts around the bonfire, I certainly found life among the dying.

Here's a recipe from last night...

Monster Dip

1 cup sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
1 pkg. ranch dip mix
1 10 oz. box frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 can water chestnuts, diced
1/2 cup red pepper, diced

For serving
1 round loaf sourdough or Italian bread
1 baguette, sliced

Mix all dip ingredients together and chill. In the round loaf, carve a large mouth and hollow it out. Make a face out of garnishes, and fill the monsters mouth with the dip. Serve with baguette slices.