Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Two days before Christmas, gingerbread cookies are all frosted, the shortbread cookies are gone, the homemade marshmallows are topping coffee and hot chocolate. The real cooking frenzy is about to begin. The more savory stuff is about to come at a rapid pace.

Tomorrow, on Christmas Eve we will continue a fifty-one year tradition for my family, we will eat what my mother prepared for her first Christmas Eve as a married woman and every year since: pork chops, baked macaroni and cheese, and applesauce and family made fruitcake (We will eat no other fruitcake). I’ve asked her why she chose this meal, her response: “I really didn’t know how to cook anything else!” We usually ate pretty late, because my mom usually didn’t start wrapping presents until that day and the whole house had to be cleaned before the extended family came over on Christmas Day. Around 9:00 PM, we’d sit down to this meal, which really set it apart from the rest of the year, because we usually ate promptly at 5:30 PM.

When I lived alone thousands of miles from my family, I made this meal for myself on Christmas Eve. Visions of feetie jammies, Mario Lanza caroling, and the raw anticipation of a kid on the big night run through my mind as I prepare this meal. It wouldn’t be Christmas Eve without it. This year, my mom took pity on my family and shipped a bottle of her homemade apple sauce for us to eat. Florida can only grow two kinds of apples (I only know of one orchard) and they are ripe in the spring, so making applesauce around here just isn’t practical and the jar stuff from the supermarket leaves much to be desired. We’ll eat our meal knowing that my sisters and my mom will be eating exactly the same meal 1800 miles away.

It’s funny that Christmas Day for us has less in the way of food traditions, growing up we would have roast beef, ham or turkey, with whatever sides we felt like having that year and with assorted pies—always including mincemeat and squash--for dessert. This year, my family will be really non-traditional, we are having chao shi (Chinese roast pork), mien tang (noodles in broth with shitake mushrooms and greens), and eggplant with garlic sauce. We will have pumpkin pie and cookies for dessert (if any are left at that point, hmmmm might need more).
Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Squash Posole Pantry Scrounge

Trying to find ways to cook that involve minimal standing time in the kitchen and then minimizing cleanup time has been a challenge since many processed foods contain dairy (cow milk) products. Using the items available that do not contain dairy products, I have been able to conjure up a few interesting meals.

Last night I took some Boston butt roast (about 1.5 lbs) and popped it into the pressure cooker with tomatoes and water intending to make chili. While it was cooking, I changed my mind. Thinking of a recipe I have made a few times that uses squash, tomatoes and green beans with chipotle peppers, I started improvising. First considering the seven year old taste buds that were to eat this, the hot peppers were relegated to a condiment.

Next, I pulled out some frozen squash and defrosted it, then chopped an onion and caramelized it in olive oil. When the pork was tender I pulled it out of the tomatoes to cool, then added the squash, caramelized onions, chili powder (the, oh so chic, Sam’s Club variety), a couple of good shakes of smoked paprika, lots of black pepper and a bit of salt to the tomatoes. That cooked down a bit while I chopped the pork into bite sized pieces and then returned it to the pot. I added canned kidney and black beans (rinsed), and in a moment of inspiration tossed in a can of (drained) hominy. This was served in bowls with gas flame toasted tortillas (done right on the burner of the stove, as one of my former students who hailed from Michoacan, Mexico taught me-the best method I've found so far), a dollop of goat’s milk yogurt and red pepper for the adults. It ended up being a squash posole.

This meal dirtied a total of two pans, one cutting board, one sharp knife, one wooden spoon, four bowls, and four spoons.

It tastes even better for breakfast the next day!

Low Effort Squash Posole
Approx 6 servings
1.5 lbs Boston butt pork roast
1 can diced tomatoes, 15 oz
2 c water
1 pkg frozen cooked winter squash
1 onion, chopped
1 t cumin seed
1 T olive oil
2 t chili powder
½ t smoked paprika
1 t oregano
Black pepper to taste
Salt to taste
1 can of black beans, 15 oz, rinsed and drained
1 can of kidney beans, 15 oz, rinsed and drained
Yogurt or sour cream to garnish
Your favorite hot pepper condiment
Cook pork, tomatoes and water for 45 minutes in the pressure cooker (until pork is tender). Meanwhile chop the onion, and caramelized with the olive oil with the cumin seed in a skillet. Drain and rinse the beans and drain the hominy. Have a cup of tea and read a book in the extra time. When the meat is tender, remove it to cool. To the pot add the onions, squash, spices, beans, salt and hominy. Chop the meat into bite sized pieces and return to the pot. Cook about ½ hour longer to develop flavor, get back to your tea and book. Immediately before serving toast tortillas directly on the burner of the stove (it works on both electric and gas stoves) and only takes a few seconds. Place into serving bowls and garnish with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream and hot pepper condiment of your choice.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Empty Pie Plate

My mom tried to let me off the hook for promising to make her a pineapple pie for her birthday, but I wouldn’t let her. I have been craving this pie for months, but just haven’t had the right chance to make one, so we compromised, she made the crust and I did the filling and the meringue. She worked her strength and I worked mine.

This pie has a special place in my heart and taste buds. It is not only rich and creamy, it has chunks of pineapple creating a tangy contrast and neat texture and then there is the meringue, I’m a sucker for good meringue.

It is one of my grandmother’s recipes and I have tweaked it enough to make it mine now. I have taken my version to a holiday potluck only to be urged by one of my friends to rush to the dessert table to taste the pineapple pie, there was only one piece left, and she knew that it was something I would love. She knows me pretty well, I guess, since I had made it because I adore it. I did return to the dessert table later in the evening, there were heaps of chocolates, fancy layer cakes, and traditional holiday diet-destructors and in the center of it all was my empty pie plate. There is no greater compliment that anyone could pay to this pineapple pie.

Baked pie crust
1 1/2 c hot soy or goat’s milk
½ c sugar
½ tsp salt
2 Tbs cornstarch
3 eggs, separated
1 slightly heaped cup drained crushed pineapple
½ tsp vanilla
6 tbs sugar for meringue
¼ tsp salt for meringue

Mix sugar, ½ tsp salt and cornstarch in a double boiler (a saucepan if you are really careful and stir constantly). Add milk. Cook until thickened.

Place egg yolks in a small bowl, beat them, add a Tbs of milk mixture and beat quickly, repeat until yolks are hot and can be added to the pan without making poached scrambled eggs. Cook until mixture is thick.
Add pineapple and vanilla.
Pour into crust.

Make meringue
Beat egg whites until they make soft peaks, add salt (if using) and sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form.

Spread on the pie and bake at 400ยบ for 10 minutes or until the peaks are lightly browned. Thoroughly chill.

Make a pot of tea and enjoy your pie!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Stoicism and Bar Stools

It was a quiet Thanksgiving for four for us this year. Everything cooked was a tried and true recipe and nothing was left to chance. Keeping everything very simple has been the motto of my cooking lately, nothing fancy, nothing time consuming, good plain food. It is pleasant for a while, but my taste buds get bored a little too easily and it cannot last for too long. I am hoping my orthopedist and physical therapist can assist me in getting my groove back in the kitchen.

My grand achievements for this past week have been yummy chocolate cupcakes (Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook recipe) and Chocolate Continental Frosting (Fannie Farmer Baking Book) for a Gator football party (at someone else’s house), a so-so dark carrot cake (FFBB) for Kirk’s birthday. All this is done with a well placed bar stool and a little New England bred stubbornness and stoicism.

In the next 24 hours, I will create a pineapple pie (custard) with meringue, an old family recipe and one of my very favorites, for my mom’s birthday.