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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Potatoes au Gratin with Ham

I keep one of those dorm-room size refrigerators in my office in Columbus.  That way I've got salad dressing and mustard and the like on hand in the event I'm down there and actually have time for lunch.  Used to be that if I had time for lunch I'd run downstairs to Kramer's.  But, they consolidated to one location and the new owner just can't cook.  Not quite sure how in the heck she stays in business but she does.  And, I'm glad for our landlord's sake!  This visit south, I didn't bring leftovers since I was starting with annual reviews for employees at a client's office.  The reviews were over and I had a real dilemma.  Stop at Wendy's and get some chili or go to the grocery and hit the deli.  The deli won out.  Except when I got there, there was a herd of men ordering their lunches.  Very slowly ordering their lunches.  Plan B.  You remember Plan B, don't you?  Always have a Plan B in the event Plan A doesn't work.  Plan B was a salad.  One of those pre-packaged deals.  They were mostly marked down.  Because the lettuce was brown.  Pretty unappetizing!  Ok, on to Plan C.  Build my own salad.  I bought a bag of romaine lettuce, a bag of carrots and snow peas, a container of diced ham and a bag of shredded cheese.  Italian dressing was in the fridge at the office.  Well, now, that made a pretty wonderful lunch!  And, since I'd not gotten around to figuring out dinner, I now had leftovers to work with.  I had some red potatoes that'd be perfect. 

So, I have a confession here.  I could sit down and eat a whole cup of cheese sauce.  I'm not terribly fond of white sauce on food - particularly vegetables.  But, put enough cheese in there and sign me up.  And, cheese soup?  YUM!  Particularly beer cheese soup.  Or cauliflower cheese soup.  Or broccoli cheese soup.  You get the idea, I'd eat about anything as long as it was smothered in cheese sauce. 

Mom's never cooked with Velveeta.  I've found it makes some pretty terrific cheese sauce and is great melted in some appetizers.  Would I ever eat a bite of the stuff plain?  Not unless forced to.  But, it does have it's place.  That being said, my favorite cheese sauce is cheddar.  Made with Cracker Barrel Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese.  The basis of cheese sauce is white sauce.  To make white sauce, you melt butter then whisk in flour and let it cook a bit or a lot depending on what you're doing.  Most of the time you just let it cook for a few minutes and don't let it get brown.  You can vary the butter/flour/liquid proportion also - depending on what you're doing again.  More flour, less liquid will be a thicker sauce and less flour, more liquid will be a thinner sauce.  For basic white sauce I usually stick with one tablespoon of butter/one tablespoon of flour/one cup of milk.  Then, I toss in enough cheese so that it tastes REALLY cheesy :-)  In this case, I used four's (4T butter, 4 T flour and 4 c milk) and a 10 oz package of cheddar.  We wound up with about a cup of extra sauce.  Believe me, that won't go to waste!  There is a secret ingredient...

Potatoes au Gratin with Ham

2 potatoes
1/2 c diced ham
1 T butter
1 T flour
1 c milk
3 oz cheddar cheese, grated

Cook and cube your potatoes. 

Or cube them then cook them.  The first is good if you're using the microwave, the second if you're boiling them in some water on the stovetop.  I never peel them because the skins are so good for us!  While the potatoes are cooking,  make your cheese sauce.  Melt the butter.  When it's totally melted and bubbling just a little, stir in the flour.  Cook it for a couple of minutes but don't let the butter get too brown. 

See how the roux (butter/flour mixture) is just a little bit brown in the photo?

Slowly whisk in the milk.  Stir until the mixture thickens. 

Now, it's time to add the secret ingredient - nutmeg. 

Just a couple of grates of fresh nutmeg will make a huge difference in your sauce.  I can't quite explain the difference but it is so true!  Once the white sauce is thick - coats the back of a spoon - you can add the grated cheese. 

Here's where you can be creative if you'd like.  Cojack, pepper jack, parmesan, brie, you name it, you can add it.  Reserve just a little of the cheese for sprinkling on top.  Now, toss the potatoes with the ham

and fold in the cheese sauce. 

Put all of this in an ovenproof baking dish.  Sprinkle with the reserved cheese and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Bourbon Marinated Steak

We have an institution in Indy by the name of St. Elmo's.  They have the finest steaks I've ever had.  I've been to places on top ten lists like Bones in Atlanta.  They're great but I prefer St. Elmo's.  Call it hometown bias if you will, but it's one of Peyton Manning's favorite places too.  And, ole Number 18 just isn't a slouch when it comes to great places to eat.

That being said, our budget just doesn't allow St. Elmo's on a regular basis.  Maybe once a year.  So, if I want steak, I've got to fix it.  Now, when it comes to steak, my favorite is a cast iron skillet heated about as hot as you can safely get it with the steak seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper and a lot of Worcestershire sauce tossed in and left long enough to create a decent sear on the outside with the inside nice and rare.  YUM.  Well, steak isn't Connie's favorite.  So, when we do have it I try and do it up a bit so he's not just eating a slab of beef.  Our usual is a nice blue cheese crust.  We do that a couple of times a year and thoroughly enjoy it. 

Now, since I'm trying to clean out the freezer for party space, I was pretty anxious to get the two rib-eyes out of there.  What to do with them.  On Foodbuzz I came across a recipe from Liv Life for Bourbon Marinated Steaks.  It was pretty similar to the marinade recipe I've used for years for pork tenderloin.  I got my recipe from Back Home Again.  That's a cookbook from the Indianapolis Junior League.  It's probably my favorite cookbook of all time.  And, it's finally back in print if you're looking for a great gift to give yourself or someone else.  This marinade had the normal suspects with an additional slug of mustard, a bit of Worcestershire and some slice onion. 

What did we think?  Very good.  I'll make this again and may even try it on the pork tenderloins.  My guess is it'd also be great on chicken. 

Bourbon Marinated Steak

1/4 c bourbon
2 T packed dark brown sugar
1/4 c low sodium soy sauce
2 T spicy mustard
1/4 c sliced onions
1 t worcestershire sauce
salt and freshly ground pepper


Mix marinade ingredients and marinate steaks for about 2 hours before grilling. Note in the photos how easy it is to measure out 1/4 c of sliced onions when they're added to a measuring cup that already contains 1/2 c of liquid.

When you pour the marinade on the steaks, IF you put marinade on the already cooked side, make sure you flip the steak again to cook the marinade on that side.  The last thing you want is marinade from raw meat sitting on cooked meat...

We served our steak with some really crispy onions. 

adapted from Liv Life

Friday, November 26, 2010

Turkey Sofas, Cranberry Compote and Harry Potter

Harry Potter, you say?  Well, yes, movie three or four is on FULL BLAST in the living room while I'm in the family room attempting to put sentences together in some sort of coherent fashion.  When a new movie in the series comes out, Connie disappears to the living room to watch the series to date.  I repair to the family room with a pair of earplugs.  Not to sound like a party pooper but I'm on the phone or in meetings a huge part of my day and enjoy nothing so much as quiet in the evening.  Until Harry Potter is done, quiet won't exist in the evenings.  Since Connie loves Harry Potter so much and I love Connie so much, I tolerate the noise.  Isn't that a good part of life, tolerating that which we really don't care for because someone we care for loves it?  Or, growing to love something we never thought we would because someone we love loves it?  I actually watched and enjoyed part of The Chamber of Secrets.  Heck, I actually read that book!

Well, fine, that resolves the third portion of the title.  What the heck about Turkey Sofas?  When I made out our grocery list this weekend, I added Turkey Divan to the menu for tonight (I'm writing this on November 23rd.)  Totally ignoring the fact we'd have a rather large quantity of gravy left from our feast last night.  So, tonight when we got home we talked about what needed to be brought up from the basement refrigerator, the great decision was made - Turkey Sofas instead of Turkey Divan.  I took some of the leftover dressing, nuked it, then topped it with turkey slices, cooked broccoli florets and some reheated gravy.  No pics, no fuss.  Just Turkey Sofas for dinner.  Plate-licking good.  

And, cranberry compote.  Connie's favorite treat.  I actually bought four extra bags of cranberries at Trader Joe's last year.  Tucked them in the freezer to make Connie his compote for a couple of special occasions during the year.  Then, failed miserably at making my sweetie his favorite treat.  I'll not fail as miserably this coming year - I promise!  We each had a little bowl of compote last night.  Today for lunch we had turkey sandwiches - turkey, mayo, cranberry compote and a huge handful of lettuce on whole wheat.  It was fantastic.  I remember the first time I had a turkey sandwich with cranberry jelly.  Connie and I'd gone to Durham to David and Kara's.  David is Connie's oldest son.  Kara is his wonderful wife.  She's a scientist.  She had the whole cooking extravaganza organized to the minute.  Now, this was the first time she'd cooked Thanksgiving dinner.  And, she did it to perfection.  What an amazing meal.  And, what an amazing young lady!  The next day before we left to drive north, Connie fixed us sandwiches.  Turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce.  It was the best turkey sandwich I'd ever had.  Wow. 

One of my friends stopped by the office today.  She's having a really fun date for Thanksgiving.  She left with half of our leftover compote.  The better to entertain with, my dear :-)

As for the compote, I clipped the recipe from a magazine.  It was long before I started blogging so I didn't note a magazine of origin and can't give proper credit.  Here's a pic of the recipe... I know I should recognize it from the publishing style but I get so daggone many cooking magazines that they're a blur.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if they'd put a little logo at the end of each recipe!

Cranberry Compote 

2 - 12 oz bags fresh cranberries
1 3/4 c sugar
1 T grated orange rind
1/4 c orange juice (I just use 1/4 c of OJ concentrate)
2 T orange liqueur
1 cinnamon stick
1 t grated lemon rind
1 t vanilla
1/2 t grated fresh nutmeg


Mix all ingredients in a large saucepan. 

This will bubble vigorously so larger is better than smaller.  Cook the mixture on medium high heat about 5 minutes until the mixture is bubbling and the cranberry skins begin to split. 

Turn the heat down and cook another 7-8 minutes.  This will keep in the fridge up to a week - if it lasts that long!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Turkey, Brined and Roasted

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!  I'm so thankful for all of my blessings.  The love of my life, Connie.  I'm so lucky to have met him.  An incredible family.  I only wish we could see everyone today.  Friends.  Amazing friends.  A career I love.  The best clients ever.  Living in this wonderful country and in a city where there is so much to do and the quality of life is great.  My furry critters.  Cooking and all the wonderful friends I've met through blogging. 

Raise your hand if your favorite part of Thanksgiving eats is the leftovers.  That's what I thought.  There are a lot of us out there.  Those who aren't going to be eating Thanksgiving dinner at our own homes but cook a turkey anyway.  For the leftovers.  Yes, for those scrumptious sandwiches with turkey, jellied cranberry sauce, mayo and lettuce.  For turkey tettrazini overflowing with mushrooms and pimento in a savory sherry cream sauce.  Yes, for leftovers. 

Somehow, I couldn't just cook a turkey and turn it into leftovers.  We had to have our own Thanksgiving dinner - albeit a bit early.  Connie remembered boiled turnips from his kidhood.  He's from 100% Irish stock and assures me that boiled vegetables were the norm for most of his grandparents.  I asked if he'd be ok with root vegetables roasted instead of boiled.  Sure, he said.  So, I tossed a rutabaga, a couple of parsnips, a turnip and a handful of baby carrots with some olive oil, cranberry vinegar and shagbark hickory syrup and roasted them at 500 for 20 minutes.  They were yummy!

And, since Connie's not particularly fond of cornbread, I made dressing with enriched white bread, celery, onion, butter, sage, rosemary, thyme and lots of parsley.  Mom'll bring her dressing to my brother John's today and I'll be a happy camper. 

Last but not least, I made his favorite cranberry compote.  You'll have to wait til tomorrow for that recipe :-)

Back to the star of the show.  If your goal is leftovers, you want the turkey to be extra juicy.  It's usually nice and juicy when you carve the bird.  But, for leftovers it's mucho critical.  Therefore, I tried brining the bird.  I clipped Alton Brown's recipe from the Food Network Magazine and another recipe from the Indianapolis Star.  Then, yup, I did it my way.

Food Network says that Alton Brown's recipe has been their most popular Thanksgiving recipe on the website for the past six years and has gotten more comments than any other recipe.  I can see why.  If you want to go see Alton's original recipe, it's on the Food Network site.  If you want to see the original recipe from the Indianapolis Star, hopefully they'll have it posted soon.  I tried to find the link but it's not there yet.  Or, I can scan the recipe in and e it to you if you'd like. 

Here's how I combined the two:

Brined Turkey

1 12-14 pound frozen turkey

for the brine:
1 cup kosher salt
8 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 c packed dark brown sugar
1 T black peppercorns
1 T allspice berries
1 T chopped candied ginger
1 lemon, thinly sliced
cold water to cover

for the aromatics:
1 red apple, quartered
1 onion, quartered
1 cinnamon stick
4 sprigs rosemary
6 leaves sage

to coat the turkey:
canola oil

to baste the turkey:
1/2 c butter
1 c red wine
1 can jellied cranberry sauce
1 small frozen orange juice concentrate

Thaw the turkey in the refrigerator for 2-3 days prior to brining it. You need to make the brine a day before you're going to use it. 

To make the brine, combine everything but the water in a large saucepan.  (Nota bene:  I was at the office and only had a microwave oven.)

Pour in water to cover plus a little and bring to a boil.  Stir well.  You want the salt to dissolve totally.  Refrigerate the slurry until you're ready to use it.  A day before you're going to roast the turkey, take it out of it's packaging and remove the giblets.  Rinse the turkey well - inside and out.  Put it in a large stockpot.  Add the brine slurry

then add cold water to cover.  Refrigerate overnight. 

To roast the turkey, you start by preheating the oven to 500.  Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse it well - again inside and out.  Place the turkey on a roasting rack inside a pan.  Steep the apple,onion and cinnamon stick by adding them to a cup of water and microwaving on high for five minutes.  Add them to the cavity with the sage and rosemary.  Tuck the wings under the turkey.  Coat the turkey with canola oil.  Roast the turkey on your lowest shelf setting for 30 minutes.  If you have a probe thermometer, insert it into the thickest part of the breast.  Reduce the heat to 350 and bake until the internal temperature reaches 161.  When I reduce the heat, I start basting.  To make the basting sauce melt the butter and the jellied cranberry sauce.  Add the wine and orange juice concentrate.  This baste makes a very rich gravy.  It doesn't taste anything like your normal turkey gravy.

Here's Connie carving the bird:

With a quick funny story about the compost bowl that on the counter next to the turkey.  During youngest stepson Matt's first visit to our home, he was asked to empty the compost bowl into the compost bin in the back yard.  He breezed back into the house tossing the bowl up and down.  I enlightened him to the fact that the bowl is an antique.  It was my grandmother's.  He says, "You put trash in an antique?"  I said, "It's out on my counter and I want the trash bowl to look as little like trash as possible."

Last but not least, here's our dinner:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Friday Night Sandwiches

A few years ago, I was talking to Mom and said something about fixing those wonderful sandwiches you used to make for us with tuna instead of crabmeat.  I was in the car and she was at her house.  What?  I don't remember those. Sure you do.  They're in the I Hate to Cook Book.  No, I don't remember those.  She finally went to get her copy of the cookbook.  Nope, no crabmeat sandwiches.  You must be mistaken.  I was REALLY certain so I hunted when I got home.  Turns out they're called Friday Night Sandwiches and there's no entry for crabmeat sandwiches.  Go figure.  At least I knew I wasn't losing my mind - as it relates to sandwiches at least :-)  And we had a great laugh when I told her.  Just like now, crabmeat was an indulgence when growing up.  So, Mom swapped out the crabmeat for tuna and we were just as happy.  That's the way I normally make these sandwiches.  Except, last week I had half a can of crabmeat left from another meal and they sounded really good.  So, I made them with crabmeat.  YUM!

The original recipe calls for topping the sandwich with bacon and cheddar cheese.  Proscuitto works just as well and is LOTS less calories...  And, just about any kind of cheese will work.  I love pepper jack or swiss in lieu of the cheddar. 

Friday Night Sandwiches
Serves 2 generously


2 cans tuna (either two water packed or one water packed and one oil packed)
OR 8 oz crabmeat
4 oz can mushroom stems and pieces, drained
2 ribs celery, diced
1 t lemon juice
1 t caraway seeds
2 slices whole wheat bread
cheese, sliced thinly
bacon, cooked and drained or proscuitto

Toast the bread.

Mix the tuna or crabmeat,



lemon juice and caraway seeds. 

Add enough mayonnaise to moisten.  Top the toasted bread with the salad.  Then, lay the bacon or proscuitto on top. 

Top that with the cheese. 

Broil until the cheese is melted and bubbly. 

Adapted from the I Hate to Cook Book

Monday, November 22, 2010

Burgundy Meatballs

We had some ground beef left over from fixing all the goodies for Marsha's Life Master (bridge player) party.  I thought making Mom's Burgundy Meatballs would be a great idea.  They're really incredible meatballs.  I tend to make them and keep them in the freezer for last minute dinners.  Well, these ended up being more like sliders than meatballs.  Someone, and we won't say who but Connie wasn't in the kitchen and Annie has no opposable thumbs, wasn't paying attention and put too much liquid in.  Oh, well, they still tasted good.  And, Connie and I could've cared less what they looked like as long as they tasted good.  I think the other issue was that we were out of panko so I tossed some bread in the processor and made bread crumbs.  Since the bread was fresh, the bread crumbs were very light and fluffy.  In spite of the fact that I put more in than the recipe called for, there probably was less volume there then there should've been.  I hesitated to add more because I didn't want to damage the flavor. 

Now, a bit about the recipe.  Mom cut it from a magazine eons ago.  The recipe says "1945" on it so my guess is it was from a compilation of the best recipes of the last decade or something like that.  She's made these guys for as long as I can remember.  You'll want to be certain to either use a non-stick skillet or plenty of oil because they will stick like all get out.  It took a ton of elbow grease to get our skillet sparkling clean.  Although the recipe calls for making a burgundy sauce with the meatballs, you can use them in all kinds of sauces - tomato, sour cream and dill, etc.  Or, you can do what I did the first night I made them and toss them in tortillas with fresh spinach and some mustard.  They'd make great regular meatball sandwiches too. 

I actually made kind of a stroganoff sauce (below) to go over them the second evening.  Those got served over brown rice then mixed in with the rice and leftover sauce for lunch the next day.  The third time we had them with leftover pasta and eggplant parmesan and a new jar of Trader Joe's Vodka Sauce.  See how everything gets recycled? 

Mom's Meatballs

for the meatballs
1 lb ground beef
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 c bread crumbs
1 c light cream or half and half
1 t cornstarch
dash allspice

for the stroganoff sauce
1 can consomme
1/2 c red wine
8 oz sliced cremini mushrooms
1 large onion
olive oil

Make the meatballs.  Lightly mix all the ingredients.

Shape into 24 balls. Brown them on all sides in olive oil.

To make the stroganoff sauce, brown the mushrooms in olive oil.  

In a separate skillet, saute the onions.  I know, most recipes call for sauteeing them together.  But, I like the bit of browning the mushrooms can do without the moisture from the onions...  Sprinkle some flour over the mushrooms. 

Stir well and allow the flour to cook a bit. 

Add the garlic and thyme to the onions. 

Pour some of the consomme into the mushrooms and stir well.  Slowly add the rest of the consomme and the red wine.  Add the onion mixture and stir until slightly thickened.