Saturday Suppers: Delayed Thanksgiving Edition

The Tuesday after Thanksgiving, a bathroom remodel project was started in my house.  Between the trips to hardware store after hardware store and the technology issues I’ve been experiencing, I have not had time to finish posts that I’ve been working on.  So here we are just over two weeks after Thanksgiving and I am posting two posts I thought would be posted each of the Saturdays immediately following Thanksgiving.  What is that Steinbeck said about the best-laid plans of mice and men?


After spending Thanksgiving Day with two of my sisters, I also cooked a smaller turkey at home on the Monday after Thanksgiving (work on bathroom renovations interfered with my turkey being cooked over the weekend) and my mother’s to die for sausage stuffing.

Mom’s stuffing was so good as girls, my sisters and I would fight over the last serving in the dish even though Mom made sure there was an ample potful on the stove. Now we fight over who can make Mom’s stuffing the best; until this year I encouraged the battle by telling my sisters that I wasn’t sure which one of them made it as good as Mom. I needed to taste each of them side by side in order to make that determination. As the official taste tester, the two that live closest to me send me containers of their stuffing for me to evaluate. Since most years we go to my other half’s family dinner on Thanksgiving, I developed a healthy competition between my sisters that provided me with containers of Mom’s stuffing to enjoy when we returned home. If you have competitive siblings, this tactic also works for pumpkin pie.

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Saturday Suppers: Marbled Pumpkin Cheesecake

The Tuesday after Thanksgiving, a bathroom remodel project was started in my house.  Between the trips to hardware store after hardware store and the technology issues I’ve been experiencing, I have not had time to finish posts that I’ve been working on.  So here we are just over two weeks after Thanksgiving and I am posting two posts I thought would be posted each of the Saturdays immediately following Thanksgiving.  What is that Steinbeck said about the best-laid plans of mice and men?


Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday; more than even Christmas.  I’ve always loved its simplicity revolving around family and friends, food and football.  It is the slower paced, more relaxing holiday that lacks the commercialism of modern Christmas.

In spite of my love for Thanksgiving or actually probably because of it, in recent years I have stressed over it.  I have allowed others to interfere and determine how my holiday turns out.  Even during years where the holiday has turned out enjoyable, I stress because with my other half’s family things can change on a whim.

This year, I promised myself that I wasn’t going to let others ruin my favorite holiday.   I told my best friend and my sisters that I had made my peace with the situation, that I was going to be at Zen with the outcome whether I enjoyed the holiday I wanted or stayed home alone cooking my turkey and favorite sides. Ultimately, I decided I was going to Thanksgiving dinner at my sister Debbie’s house and stopping by my sister Judy’s for dessert (and making my own smaller Thanksgiving later that weekend).

I decided I would bring pumpkin cheesecake to both gatherings.

I used the Marbled Pumpkin Cheesecake recipe that I had saved in my recipe box on allrecipes.com with some minor changes.

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All the ingredients gathered on the work surface.

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Saturday Suppers: Corn Chowder

The weather has been unseasonably cold lately, even for New England.  The meteorologist on the local news recently showed average historical temperatures for the Boston area and apparently we are experiencing January cold in November.  Some how knowing this makes it seem colder.

Cold weather seasonable or unseasonable makes me want to nest, bake and cook until spring.  I think of hot buttery rolls and soups, stews and chowder.  One of my mother’s classic cold weather standbys was New England Corn Chowder or Chowdah as we are known for saying.

The last time I made any my mother was alive and I could ask her how to make it.  So after consulting with one of my sisters who doesn’t make it but confirmed what I remembered of Mom’s chowder, I headed to my kitchen.

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Ingredients for my corn chowder.

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About 3 lbs. of Potatoes stacked up ready to be peeled.

While peeling the potatoes, I decided to use all 5 lbs. in the bag.

While peeling, I decided to use 5 lbs. of potatoes.

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Cut the potatoes into about 1 inch cubes.

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Place in stockpot in salted water to parboil. Potatoes should be firm like for potato salad not mashed potatoes.

In full disclosure, I overcooked my potatoes; I was tempted to make mashed potatoes out of this batch but I don’t have enough potatoes in my pantry to then make chowder.  That is what I get for trying to start this post while the potatoes were on the stove.  All is not lost, normally I would transfer the potatoes back into the stock pot after draining and add the corn, milk and other ingredients to the potatoes.  Instead I gave the potatoes a cold bath to stop the cooking process, set them aside and added them in at the end.

If you look closely you may be able to see that the potatoes are overdooked.

If you look closely you may be able to see that the potatoes are overcooked.

Clean and dice about six stalks of celery.

Clean and dice about six stalks of celery.

Set the diced celery aside.

Set the diced celery aside.

Chop two onions, I prefer a coarse chop.

Chop two onions, I prefer a coarse chop.

In a sauté pan, heat 2 Tbsp. of olive oil with 2 Tbsp. of butter.

In a sauté pan, heat 2 Tbsp. of olive oil with 2 Tbsp. of butter.  Some people just use oil but like Chef Didier I know the secret to life is butter.

 

Sweat celery in sauté pan for a few minutes.

Add onion and sweat vegetables together.

When celery and onion are finished sweating set aside.

In stockpot add 2 cans of creamed style corn

in stockpot add 2 cans of creamed style corn

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Add milk to corn in stock pot; I started with 4 cups. Stir corn and milk together and simmer.

 

Add celery and onions.

Add celery and onions to simmering corn and milk.

I decided that the chowder needed more corn. I sautéed 2.5 cups of frozen corn in 2 Tbsp. of butter.

Chowder is done after I added 2 more cups of milk , 1 Tbsp. butter and potatoes.

The finished product.

Recipe Summary:

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs. of potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 cans creamed style corn
  • 6 cups milk
  • 6 stalks celery, sliced
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups frozen corn
  • 2 Tbsps. olive oil
  • 5 Tbsps. butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Directions

  • Parboil potatoes.  See photo captions if like me you overcook potatoes.
  • Drain potatoes.  Add creamed style corn and milk and simmer.
  • Sweat celery and onions in olive oil and butter.
  • Add to stockpot and continue simmering.
  • Sauté frozen corn in 2 Tbsps. butter and add to stockpot.
  • Add 1 Tbsp.. butter and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Simmer until potatoes are tender.

My batch of corn chowder came out good but missing something.   In hindsight, I am positive my mom used bay leaves in her chowder and possibly sage.  I am going to have to check with my other sister and adapt my recipe.

Summer’s Bounty or lack thereof

SSPX0030Around Memorial Day, I decided I was going to try my hand at urban gardening.  Armed with fifteen five-gallon signature Homer orange buckets from one of America’s favorite home improvement retailers; bags of organic soil; starter plants from a local nursery – tomatoes, both Roma plum and cherry, cucumbers, salad and pickling, summer squash, both green zucchini and yellow, green peppers and basil and a can do attitude I set out to grow some of my own vegetables.

I tended my garden every day, watering and fertilizing while imagining the overflow of tomatoes, zucchini and cucumbers my garden would surely yield as reward for all my hard work and diligence. At first things appeared to be on track, my plants were growing. I was excited over the arrival of the first tomatoes on the vine, but as summer progressed I realized there would be no high yield, my plum tomatoes barely larger than a walnut.

Luckily, I live in area where I have access to fresh locally grown fruits and vegetables from several local family owned farms and no less than three farmers markets spread throughout the week within a mile from my house and even more within a several mile radius.

DSCN1085My urban garden’s summer bounty consists of a still growing basil plant. With more basil than I could eat in one of my summer favorites: caprese salad, I think fresh pesto.

Having never made pesto before, I did have a basic sense of how it is made – traditionally with a mortar and pestle out of basil, pignoli nuts (pine nuts), extra virgin olive oil, garlic cloves, and Romano or parmesan cheese.  I perused the internet looking at the recipes of some of my favorite Food Network Stars – Ina Garten, Giada De Laurentiis and Ree Drummond and on simplyrecipes.com and allrecipes.com to get an idea of the proportion of ingredients to another.

After comparing the various recipes, preferences and best practices this is what I decided upon for based on the amount of basil I harvested.

Basic Recipe for Basil Pesto

Ingredients

  • 3 cups fresh basil leaves
  • ½ cup pignoli nuts (pine nuts), toasted or raw
  • ¾ cup grated pecorino Romano or parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 5 cloves of fresh garlic
  • ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)

Directions

  • Rinse basil leaves and dry in a salad spinner or pat dry between paper towels.
  • If your preference is to toast the pignoli nuts to bring out their nutty flavor, spread the pignoli nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Place cookie sheet in a preheated 350 degree oven for 6 – 10 minutes, turning the nuts periodically. Remove from oven when nuts are a golden brown. Immediately transfer to a bowl for cooling. Note it is better to under toast than to over toast.
  • Using a food processor or blender place the basil leaves, pignoli nuts, salt, pepper and garlic in the bowl and pulse blend.
  • Scrape sides to ensure all the ingredients are well blended.
  • Drizzle olive oil into the mixture as it blends; adding more if consistency of pesto is not creamy or smooth enough.
  • Note if you are using the pesto immediately, add the cheese in with the basil leave mixture. If you are freezing for later use do not add the cheese in until ready to use.
  • If freezing, top jar with a thin layer of EVOO to preserve green color.

Below are pictures and commentary on my first batch of pesto.

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I harvested my basil plant leaving some leaves to encourage continued growth throughout the fall.

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I rinsed the leaves, spun them dry in my salad spinner and let them sit to dry for about an hour while I did other things around the house. DSCN1088

My harvest yielded about 3 cups of basil leaves.

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My pesto ingredients lined up on the kitchen counter.

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Wanting to enhance the flavor of pignoli nuts, I toasted them in my 350 degree oven for about six minutes.

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I added about 1/3 of my ingredients into the blender’s bowl at a time.

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As I blended the ingredients, I added more ingredients along with drizzling olive oil into the bowl as I blended.  (Note, I ran out of hands so did not take a picture of me adding EVOO as I pulsed the ingredients with one hand and poured EVOO into the blender’s bowl with the other.)

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Creamy pesto, yummy.

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Since I’m freezing my pesto, I did not blend in my cheese and I added a thin level of EVOO to the top of each jar to preserve the color.

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My end result – one 8-ounce and two 4-ounce jelly jars of pesto waiting to be placed into my freezer.

Homemade pesto will last about four months in the freezer or five – ten days in the refrigerator.  Some cool evening this fall, I will prepare a pesto dish using one of the jars of frozen pesto after blending in some cheese and enjoy my summer bounty.

Peach Cobbler: my search for the perfect recipe

When I think of summer desserts, I think watermelon, refreshing and simple, and berries – strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and their endless dessert possibilities throughout the summer.  But as summer begins to wane, the days getting a bit shorter, I think of peaches, sweet and juicy, and peach cobbler.

Several summers ago, I decided I should learn to make peach cobbler; for no other reason than I had never tried to bake one. I called my sister to see if she had her late mother-in-law’s recipe.  Kate Cassidy, who was originally from South Carolina, was a phenomenal baker and excellent cook.  She prided herself on her culinary and homemaking skills and was known for her signature coconut cake, peach cobbler and barbecue sauce to name a few of her notable recipes.

A delightful Southern belle, Kate never turned down a request for one of her recipes, but when sharing her recipes I suspect she sometimes left out an ingredient.  It was never anything that would make your attempt at her dish a total flop, but your version would always be slightly less than the perfection she served up of the same recipe with a smile and a healthy spoonful of Southern charm.

Armed with a coveted recipe from a phenomenal baker and a basketful of freshly picked peaches from a local family owned farm, I set out to make my first cobbler.  The result was a tasty cobbler, delicious actually, but lacking in presentation.  The peaches were not completely covered by batter and in spots the cobbler was too juicy.  I made several attempts at peach cobbler that first summer, all tasty but none perfect.

Kate Cassidy’s Peach Cobbler

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup brown sugar                                   
  • ½ cup water                                                      
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch                              
  • 2 lbs. cut peaches                                            
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice                          
  • ¼ cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup flour 
  • ½ cup white sugar  
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder 
  • ½ teaspoon salt     
  • ½ cup milk

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  • Cook and stir brown sugar, water, cornstarch and peaches over medium heat until thick.
  • Remove from heat and add lemon juice.
  • Pour into baking dish and set aside.
  • Combine remaining ingredients together.
  • Smooth flour mixture over the top of the peaches.
  • Bake until syrup is bubbling and crust is golden brown, approximately 50 minutes.

Over the next few summers, I tried repeatedly to make the ever elusive perfect peach cobbler with a variety of recipes.  No matter which recipe I used, I continued to come up short.

Last week, I decided I was going to make yet another attempt at baking the perfect peach cobbler.  I went to the farmer’s market and bought my peaches; I did more research on allrecipes.com where I found both a video on how to make peach cobbler and a nearly perfect recipe from Chef John.

My first attempt at making Chef John’s version of cobbler was almost perfect. Close enough to perfection that I am feeling I have finally nearly mastered the elusive peach cobbler.  So close to perfect that if in addition to being a world class procrastinator I wasn’t also a perfectionist, I would declare victory and move on, happy to tweak the recipe next summer.

The original recipe calls for 1/8 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder, which I did not have so I substituted nutmeg and cinnamon.   In the video Chef John uses 5 peaches and the recipe calls for 5 cups of sliced peaches.  I used 7 – 8 peaches which is about 5 – 5 1/2 cups.  The consensus was that there were not enough peaches: we were split on the spices – I thought I should use a dash less nutmeg,  my other half thought the nutmeg was fine; he thought it could be sweeter; and we both thought it should have stayed in the oven longer than the 50 minutes the recipe called for as it was still a bit juicy in spots.  The next day the juice had tightened up.

I reviewed Kate Cassidy’s recipe, which now that I have looked at it more carefully, I think that there is an error in the amount of baking powder – 1/2 teaspoon should be 1 1/2 teaspoons.  That change would likely make the batter rise enough to spread over all the peaches.  I compared it to Chef John’s recipes and my other attempts at baking the perfect peach cobbler.

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I documented my next attempt at the perfect peach cobbler.  I halved, peeled and sliced my bowl of peaches.  DSCN1047

Five peaches yielded about four cups of peaches.

DSCN1049I continued until I finished prepping my bowl of peaches.  In the end, I had a bowlful of 7 1/2 cups of sliced peaches.  DSCN1052

Over mediums heat, I gently stirred 1/2 cup of packed brown sugar and 3/4 cups of white sugar with 1 cup of water until the sugar dissolved into the water.  This simple sugar had an amber color because of the brown sugar; had I used all white sugar it would have been clear in color.  DSCN1054After adding cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon zest to the sliced peaches, I placed them in the saucepot with the simple sugar; stirring for 2 – 3 minutes before removing from the heat, covering the pot and placing to the side.  DSCN1058In the meantime, I placed my butter in a baking dish in my preheated 350 degree oven to melt.  Thanks for the tip,  Paula Deen!  Why make more dirty dishes, when you don’t have to?!? DSCN1059After removing the melted butter, pour the batter over the butter.

DSCN1060Uncover the setting peaches and gently add the peaches and juice on top of the batter.  DSCN1061At this point, I almost stopped adding peaches, fearing I would have too many peaches. DSCN1063Lured by the sweetness of juicy peaches from our local orchard and in spite of the voice in my head telling me to stop, I did not stop until I put all 7 1/2 cups of sliced peaches and juice in my baking dish.

DSCN1069After about 30 minutes of baking, I removed the cobbler from the oven to sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top.  Remember, my other half thought my first attempt at peach cobbler wasn’t sweet enough.

DSCN1074After another 20 minutes with the oven on and 10 minutes with the oven off (door shut so no heat would escape) the cobbler was done baking.  Immediately I knew that I had used too many peaches.  I should have listened to that little voice in my head that told me to make two cobblers out of the peaches – one family sized and one smaller.  I seldom listen to the little voice in my head; which would be a good thing if that voice was telling me to commit murder or some other heinous crime.  But the voice in my head tries to help me with “You’ve got too many peaches, make two cobblers.” or “Why don’t you work on that project today, so you won’t be so stressed tomorrow.”  And, sadly I seldom listen to her.

DSCN1075I can see from the first piece that there is way too much juice in the cobbler.

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Topping it with whipped cream, I tried my latest version of peach cobbler.  Hoping that it at least tasted delicious, albeit soupy.  Wrong! Way too sweet for even my sweet tooth and my other half agrees.

Summer is almost over, but if I host or am invited to an end of summer barbecue I will make one last attempt at perfecting peach cobbler during the summer of 2014.  And, I will of course post my results here.  I have several ideas as to how to fix my latest attempt and am confident one more trip to one of our local orchards for peaches and I will master peach cobbler. I am so close, I can taste the peachy goodness.