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Friday, November 30, 2007

En garde!

The boys tonight argued over who got to eat the last piece of broccoli.

Which tells me that the bebe is going to be the one with the uncanny ability to ferret out every last piece of chocolate I squirrel away (is that a mixed metaphor?). Kind of like me as a kid. Joy.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Dandy Dinde




We had a crazy crowd chez Chovy yesterday. We hosted three other young families, so there were children aged 7, 7, 5, 4, 4, 2, 2, 2, 2, and zero (yes, that means the adults were outnumbered--a childless couple did show up for desserts, which made things briefly even, at least on paper). My idea was that more guests => less for any one person to prepare, which turned out to be just right. And the kids made less chaos than I had feared (thanks to starting at a regular dinner hour, being pretty well prepared, and having a favorite movie for them to watch after they had inhaled their dinners and the adults were still eating).

I made the turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. Others brought the green beans with slivered almonds, yam souffle, rolls, pecan pie, apple pie à la mode, mint brownies, fruit pizza, and pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. Everything was delicious. We had a two-year-old table (the coffee table with kid chairs, moved into the dining room bay window--Number Two was the only toddler who actually sat and ate for any appreciable amount of time), a kid table (all boys!) in the breakfast room, and a grownup table set with my grandmother's sterling and linens.

I thought the turkey turned out fabulously well this year. I bought a natural turkey, but did absolutely nothing special to prepare it (I have a newborn, remember?), just loaded the stuffing, put it on the roasting rack and shoved it in the oven at 425° for a half-hour, then lowered the temp to 350° for most of the duration. I tried to use my oven's probe so I wouldn't have to keep checking the temperature, but had a hard time finding a good spot to stick it because (this year's big experiment) I put the turkey on the rack breast side down, AND LEFT IT THAT WAY THE WHOLE TIME. There are lots of recipes that recommend putting the turkey prone for part of the cooking time, but they all say to turn it supine at some point so it looks better. Well, I don't care what it looks like! What with resting and carving ahead of time, no one other than me and the carver sees it whole. I only care what it tastes like. So, I would say this experiment was an unqualified success. With no brining, and no basting, I had breast meat that was juicy--hooray!

The stuffing was also primo. I made a loaf of plain white bread in my bread machine (remember how trendy these used to be? now I only use it once a year), cut it into half-inch cubes, and dried it in the oven. Right before loading, I sautéed in a few tablespoons of butter a large onion and four or five ribs of celery, finely chopped, and added a lot of finely chopped herbs (a whole bunch of parsley, and fistfuls of thyme and sage from the garden) at the end. After tossing the veggies/herbs with the bread cubes, only about half of it fit in the turkey's two cavities, so the other half got tossed with two cups homemade chicken broth and put into the crock pot on low. Before serving, I mixed both parts together. Yum--the stuffing was the one dinner item I didn't parcel out to send home with the guests; I just like it too much to share.

As I mentioned, the pie crust using part leaf lard (4 T, with 6 T butter) turned out flaky and fine. I can hardly wait to use it in a crust I'll be eating right away, and not the next day. The filling was the good old stand-by, the recipe straight off the side of the Libby's can. To me, it just tastes how it oughter.

Hope you all had a wonderful holiday!

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Heirlooms and Shiners

Last Sunday I put the bebe in a dress (?) that I wore as a tiny baby (per my mom). Since we were born in different seasons, she wore actual clothes underneath (I'm sure I probably only wore some kind of decorative panty). It's fine white batiste with machine-made lace and very very fine hand embroidery. Wait until you see the even-prettier number that was my mother's and will be the right size next summer!



Number Two's shiner is developing nicely. I'm not sure how well you can see it here, but I did love this picture:



Here it's maturing even more, into that nice yellow-green shade. It should be gone in a few days.



Number Two got his hands on the camera the other day when Mavis and I were gone to Number One's parent-teacher conference. He was trying to see the pictures on it, and ended up taking some of his own. Here's a representative shot, showing his bejammied legs and his big brother's bare ones (big brother and the babysitter were playing Yahtzee and not paying overmuch attention to Number Two's activities!):



And speaking of Number One's conference, well, his teacher said he's a model student. Doing well in every subject, never disruptive in class, a great example to the other kids, eagerly helpful to the teacher--hard to believe it's the same kid we have to nag and nag and nag and nag and nag to do his writing homework. But hey--I'm not complaining!

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Laaaarrrrrrrrd

Well, I wanted to use some of the leaf lard in my Thanksgiving pie crust, which meant I had to render some. Thanks to the wonders of Google, I got a general idea of how I should go about it, and set to it.

Here is the big box of fat:



I pulled out a few of the pieces (the fat from each pig was cohesive and they were pretty easy to separate from each other), chopped them into one-inch chunks, and popped them into the Cuisinart:



After processing:



Then I put the end result (3-4 Cuisinart-loads) into my 6-quart dutch oven and into a 220-degree oven for about a million years (more like 8-9 hours). This is what it looked like when I pulled it out. I'm fairly certain that not all the fat was rendered, but I'm not sure how much longer it would have taken to get it out at that temperature. I think next time (oh yes, there will be a next time--I barely made a dent into that giant box, but I got more than enough lard to last me for this winter's pastry-making) I'll try it at 250. And I might use the meat grinder attachment on my KitchenAid instead of the Cuisinart.



After pulling it out of the oven, I let it cool for a while, then strained through coffee filters and portioned out into small plastic containers to freeze. Another thing I learned for next time: don't let it cool for more than an hour before starting to strain; it needs to be quite hot to make it through the filter.

Another thing my Googling told me was that the fat I got might not technically have been leaf fat (which is strictly the fat around the adrenal glands), but might have been caul fat (which is located around the intestines and other organs). Either way, it was dead cheap, and when I was using it to make my pie crust tonight, it smelled just like the pie crusts my mom made when I was a kid.

A final note: the fat is easiest to handle when it's colder than fridge temperature. Next time I'll start chopping it fresh from the freezer and see if that works. Colder fat leaves much less pasty residue on everything you're using to break it down into smaller pieces, making for easier cleanup. I could definitely tell a difference between the first batch of fat I processed and the last.

Anyone wanna come help me render the rest, say, in January, when the holidays are over and I'm done with my stupid CLE reporting?

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Jeg elsker gjetost

Saturday was book group, to discuss The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This book is a great book group book, with lots to talk about and an engaging plot. The book is set in Chicago and Western Michigan, which didn't do much to inspire me culinarily. However, in one scene a couple of the characters eat at Ann Sather's, a Chicago institution serving Swedish and American food. I've eaten at Ann Sather's, plus I grew up eating some Norwegian food, plus I had lunch at Broder last week, SO, I decided a Scandinavian menu was in order.

We started with gjetost, the brown, nutty, caramelized Norwegian goat cheese (gjet = goat, ost = cheese; despite what I thought as a kid, it has nothing to do with toast). We ate it the way my dad served it to us as part of Sunday evening "snack," back in the days before the consolidated meeting schedule: Kavli, thinly spread with butter and honey, then topped with thinly-sliced cheese. Divine.

The main course (on the light side, since I wanted everyone to have plenty of room for the finisher): baked scrambled eggs with smoked chinook salmon or golden trout, and havarti and jarlsberg cheeses; baby greens with raspberry vinaigrette and hazelnuts. To make the baked eggs, I put a slice of artisan bread (trimmed to fit) in the bottom of the ramekin, topped it with chunks of salmon/trout and havarti and finely grated jarlsberg, then poured the egg mixture (10 eggs for 8 8-oz ramekins, plus about 1/2 C cream and 1/2 C milk, lightly salted and peppered) over the top and baked at 325° for about 40 minutes--until puffed and not wobbly in the middle.

The really exciting part of brunch: the sourdough aebleskivers, with buttermilk syrup and marionberry and lingonberry jams. There are lots of aebleskiver recipes out there, mostly just variations on pancake and waffle recipes. They're all good, but the sourdough ones are about a million times better.

To make sourdough starter, mix 2 C flour and 2 C water in a large plastic or glass bowl, using a wooden spoon. Lightly cover with a thin dishtowel and leave at warm room temperature for 3-4 days, stirring a few times a day. When you're ready to use the starter, save some for future use (so you don't have to start over every time--1/2 C or so in a jar in the fridge that you stir every few days, and add flour to every so often), then mix in 1 beaten egg, 1/8 C oil (more if you're going to make waffles with the batter), and a mixture of 1 T sugar, 1 t baking soda and 1 t salt. When you mix in the dry ingredients, the batter will about double in volume. Cook it up right away (before the batter completely deflates), and enjoy!!

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Progress!

Number Two's had a language breakthrough in the last day and a half--last night he said what we are considering his first complete sentence, with subject, verb and object: "[Number Two] like ham." It seemed fitting (the ham to which he was referring had lately been served in macaroni and cheese, on a Hawaiian pizza, and in the below soup). Then, this morning he came out with "[Number One] watch TV" and "Mommy make toast," followed by many others as the day went on. We're also seeing development in how he recalls and relates things, and makes connections--it's so cool!

Number Two also got his worst owie to date today. We were at a friend's looking at pictures she took of the bebe, and as he was making his way over to the Duplos to build a tower, he lost his footing and fell into the coffee table. The look on his face was just awful--pain and shock and betrayal, all at once, more than he could get out in one cry. It took a long snuggle for him to recover enough to get back to tower-making. It actually looks a little worse in real life than in this picture (taken as I was getting him up from his nap):



I'm pretty proud of how much cooking I've done this week: only one takeout dinner (though, granted, Sunday dinner was at J&J's), two batches of cookies, and a good dose of planning and prep for tomorrow's book group brunch and next week's Chaos, with Turkey (tm). A few nights ago, we had this soup, adapted from a recipe in the Cook's e-newsletter.
Pink Soup

(It was only pink because of the red Swiss chard stems I included. It did also have some pink ham, but I think you could make a perfectly fine soup that tasted exactly the same but was not pink.)

6 C chicken broth (1 C homemade concentrated stock, diluted)
2 lbs potatoes (about half peeled-and-cubed russets, half marble-sized multicolored babies)
1 bay leaf
1 T unsalted butter
1 4-oz link country sage sausage, cut into 1/4" slices
about the same amount ham, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 medium yellow onion, cut in half polewise and then sliced thinly crosswise
1/2 bunch Swiss chard, leaves and stems separated, and cut crosswise into 1/2" pieces
1/2 C frozen corn kernels
a little flour-water slurry to thicken at the end
2 T balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Bring broth, potatoes and bay leaf to boil, then simmer until potatoes are tender. Mash the russets roughly, so some chunks still remain.

2. Meanwhile, melt butter in dutch oven and sauté onion, chard stems and sausage until getting nicely browned. Add chard leaves and cook just until they're starting to wilt.

3. Add potato mixture to sausage/onion mixture (removing bay leaf), deglazing pan as needed. Stir in corn kernels. Use flour-water to thicken as desired. Simmer a few minutes to blend flavors. Stir in balsamic vinegar, adjust seasonings and serve.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

One Month Old

And still a brunette! If her hair's going to fall out, we expect it to do so within the next two weeks. But gosh, her eyebrows are dark, too (as you can see). And I frankly have a hard time picturing a blonde with this skin tone. Her eyes are getting bluer by the day, at least. She's pretty cute, though--think we'll keep her.

Oh, and I forgot to mention--on the eve of her one-month birthday, she started smiling! Haven't been able to capture it with the camera yet. She also feels different to hold--she's gone from being a tightly curled bug, all self-contained, to actually relaxing into my body, snuggling up. And of course she's bigger.



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Thursday, November 8, 2007

C is for Cookie

What could be better than nuts and honey?

Here is the silver lining to the magazine prank of the last few months (got an issue of Sew News today, yay): a good recipe. The Cookie of the Month in the September issue of Martha Stewart Living was Honey-Walnut Coins (try as I might, I could not find this recipe on marthastewart.com, but Google found it at the walnut board website). I have always believed that walnuts are evil, but I quickly figured out a way to get around that issue: hazelnuts. Now, I've learned in the past that nuts aren't always substitutable, but this time it worked like a charm.

I also used local late-summer honey instead of Martha's recommended orange blossom, and the floral, slightly fruity flavor was divine. I'd also recommend making the cookies quite a bit thinner than specified in the recipe (I made the dough into a log and then cut it, after chilling, into 3/8" slices--next time I'll even try 1/4"), and cooking them a bit longer, until well golden all over, not just pale golden at the edges. I skipped the final honey glaze, and there was no shortage of honey flavor.



*To toast hazelnuts, bake at 275° until they start to smell toasty and the skins have split. Let cool and then rub the skins off with your fingers or a coarse kitchen towel.

**"C is for Cookie" is one of Number Two's favorite songs, and the first one he ever tried to sing on his own. He misses most of the words, still, so it goes "C, cookie, C, cookie, Cookie, cookie C, Cookie cookie cookie C," etc. We are loving watching/hearing his language acquisition--new this week: gerunds, possessives, and plurals!

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