Thursday, November 18, 2010

Raw Harmony

Thanksgiving is next week. I’m sure you have made plans about where to eat, what to eat and when to eat. But I just thought I would offer up one more suggestion.

I have not yet made Thanksgiving dinner all by myself yet. I mean, I have cooked Thanksgiving dinner with my family now for years, but I have not single-handedly attempted this feast. I once made a toned down version of it for a couple of friends when Joe and I were in California, but that was only because I had a coupon for a free frozen turkey from the grocery store. So I don’t know if that counts.
When I was little my family always went to my grandparent’s house in Delaware. And I mentioned here before, that I could stand in the kitchen and watch my grandmother cook for as long as I wanted. I remember being almost at counter-height watching her reach into a gigantic pale turkey and pull out its giblets. I told her it was disgusting. And she laughed and told me I too would do it one day. I believe my reaction was a gag as I told her “No way!”
Well, that day has come. I no longer fear reaching up the backside of poultry and scooping out whatever meaty bits are left intact. But this is not the case for many people around this holiday. In fact, in the spirit of full disclosure, I once vowed to become a vegetarian at Thanksgiving. It may have been the same year I decided raw turkeys were gross. I excused myself from the table, ran down the hall into my mother’s childhood bedroom, flung myself on the bed and started crying. When my mom came in and asked what was wrong, I told her we shouldn’t eat meat because it’s mean to the animals. And if you know my mom, you’ll understand her reaction.
"Are you kidding? Where did this come from?”
“I just decided” I sobbed.
So for everyone next week, who doesn’t eat meat, or doesn’t eat any animal products, or for anyone who just needs something to bring to a Thanksgiving dinner; this recipe is it! It is easy and quick, can be made ahead of time or ten minutes prior to eating. And although there is a very similar recipe in the NY Times this week, I assure you this one is different.

Raw Sweet Potato Maple and Cranberry Salad
Adapted from Joan Nathan's The New American Cooking
This recipe is very versatile. You can switch the orange juice for lime, or the parsley for cilantro or the maple syrup for honey. This dish fits into the theme of Thanksgiving with a modern twist. But be warned, it will make a lot!

1 large red fleshed sweet potato, peeled
2 small cloves garlic, peeled
1/3 c. flat leaf parsley
1/3 c. dried cranberries
Juice of one orange (or tangerine)
1 ½ Tb. Pure Maple syrup (preferably dark)
Salt and pepper to taste

Grate the peeled garlic into a bowl. Next, chop the parsley and cranberries together until relatively fine. Grate the sweet potato on a box grater using the smaller size hole. It will be a bit watery, but don’t squeeze the juice out. Next combine all the ingredients together and stir. Taste for salt and pepper and add as desired.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Onion Goggles

My grandmother used to wear “Onion Goggles.” This is not the same as beer goggles, although actual visibility may be just as impaired by either. No, Onion Goggles were the science lab type of eyewear protection my grandmother would wear while chopping onions. I only remember her wearing them sometimes and I can’t tell you what she was making while wearing them, but I am guessing anything with a lot of onions.
I used to love that she had onion goggles, and I would wonder why we did not have onion goggles at home for all of our onion chopping needs. During the holidays I could stand in the kitchen and watch her cook. She would pull out the onions, open her kitchen drawer, don the goggles and get to work. My eyes would always tear up, and she would tell me that I needed a pair of onion goggles. I’m not sure if I ever was given a pair, but hopefully there is a picture somewhere of my grandmother and me wearing our onion goggles standing at the kitchen counter.
I too have enlisted the help of eye protection occasionally when cutting onions. If the amount is small enough I will tough it out and have myself a good cry. But when I am cutting a lot of onions, I may bust out some old swim goggles and strap them to my head. I must say, that swim goggles are not the ideal goggles to use on dry land. My goggles constantly fog up, and make it extremely dangerous to continue chopping.

When we were living in California, I had offered to make the stuffing for a large family style Thanksgiving meal at the bakery I worked at. This meant stuffing for about 120 people. And if you remember how I have a problem gauging how much food to make – it will come as no surprise that I made waaaay too much stuffing. Plus, working at the bakery gave me access to all the different types of bread I could ever want in a stuffing. At any rate, I made about 40 pounds of stuffing. Which of course called for about 10 pounds of onions.
When chopping 10 pounds of onions you really do need eyewear protection. I tried everything else – freezing the onions, cutting them under water (which is a surefire way to cut yourself and make it look like a scene from Jaws in your kitchen sink), lighting a match and so on, but goggles are simply the best. And the reason I am mentioning this now, is not for a recipe on stuffing (although I may do that later) but for onion soup.

For a good onion soup, you really need to cut a lot of onions. I will give you a recipe that calls for a certain number of onions, but the goal here is to force other people out of the kitchen with the huge amounts of noxious onion gas you will be unleashing. Or better yet, if the people in another room of your house, have to leave or open a window – you know you have cut the appropriate amount for a good soup.
To me, French onion soup is a great, simple meal that is best on a cold and damp day. I have had onion soups from powdered mixes, cans, and restaurants. I have had soup with bread, no bread, gruyere cheese, swiss cheese and mozzarella cheese. And I like them all. The following recipe combines a couple of techniques which make it less labor intensive and creates a wonderful aroma that will push out the stinging bite of raw onions left hovering in your living room.

Many Onion Soup
I like using different types of onions in this. Traditional brown or yellow onions are a great base of flavor and can be supplemented with other kinds – red, cippolini, white, etc. You can use some sweet onions, but I do not recommend using a lot. Since the onions will be caramelized, the sweeter the onion to start the blander it will become once it is cooked.

3 pounds assorted cooking onions, cut in half and sliced
2 Tb. olive oil
3 Tb. Butter
1 tsp. dried thyme
½ c. sherry
2 c. Beef broth/stock
Salt and Pepper to taste (the salt really helps heighten the flavor here)

Sliced French Bread
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 ½ c. grated gruyere cheese

Preheat the oven to 425°. Place the olive oil into the bottom of a large heavy bottomed pot, and toss in onions. It will look like a lot of onions. Dot the onions with the butter, and bake uncovered for about 50 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pull the pot out of the oven, and place over medium heat. Stir occasionally, scraping up any brown bits that may appear. This will speed up the caramelization process. Then add the thyme, a dash of salt and pepper and stir to combine.

Add the cooking sherry and boil rapidly to boil off the alcohol. Next, add the beef broth and bring to a simmer. If your soup is a little light in color, feel free to cheat and use some gravy master – it won’t change the flavor at all. Taste for seasonings.

Meanwhile, toast your slices of French bread in the oven. Once slightly browned, rub the garlic clove over the bread.

Ladle the onion soup into individual, oven proof bowels, and place a slice or two of the French bread on top. Cover the whole bowl with grated cheese. Repeat for the next bowls. Place the bowls on a baking sheet and place under the broiler until the cheese is melted and slightly brown, a few moments only.

Pull from the oven, and serve.

Makes 3-4 servings

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Wing Weekend

Ahh, Football season. For some this means the next few months will be filled with fantasy, free agency and trades. For me, it is an excuse to eat junky appetizers washed down with beers on a Sunday afternoon. 
 There are so many instances, sitting around with friends, cheering or booing that I look back fondly upon. Like ordering 3 buckets (yes Buckets) of wings from a local chicken wing joint during the AFC championship, where guacamole and Oreos were the only break in wing consumption we had that day. Or meeting the actor who played Steve Urkel, who looked an awful lot like Stefan, at the Eagles bar in West Hollywood.  (Yes, I'm name dropping.)
I may have mentioned that I have a special weakness for appetizers. Frozen appetizers are the food I am most ashamed to admit that I love. The thing is, I know they are not even that good. I am a sucker for packaging and advertising. A commercial filled with people having fun and eating previously frozen pizza puffs, hooks me every time. And the siren call of appetizers at restaurants, lure me in to a false hope of deliciousness. Combo platter? Yes, with all the dipping sauces you have please.
In fact, after college when I was living in a house with a couple of girlfriends, we would have roommate happy hour. This entailed cheap very fruity “wine”, frozen appetizers and a good dose of America’s Next Top Model. Now, of course Joe will indulge me sometimes, but I can only get him to agree to 2 out of those three items. So I take full advantage of any opportunities that present themselves to indulge in tiny pre-meal bites.
Wings are the ultimate appetizer to me. Special enough to require some time and effort in preparation – or just a really great wing bar. But wings at home almost seem exotic. Should they be fried, or oven baked? And don’t even get me started with sauce options.

For me, wings should be tender and the meat should fall off the bones. You should not be able to eat wings daintily, and you should feel good about having carrots and celery in between bites of wings. So the next time you have an America’s Next Top Model marathon, or just need to sit on the couch and watch football for 5 hours straight, here is an easy, tasty wing recipe.

Tar Pit Wings
as adapted from Gourmet Cookbook

Be sure to foil the bottom of the pan. The sauce has a tendency to boil up in the oven, and will be a pain to clean if you don’t properly foil the pan. The sauce will also look like a lot, too much even, at the beginning of the baking process, but don’t worry it’ll all work out in the end.

1 lb chicken wings, split and wing tips removed
1/3 c. light soy sauce
1/3 c. dry red wine
1/8 c. sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
Black Pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400°. Place wings in a single layer, in the bottom of a foiled roasting pan. Combine the soy sauce, wine and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in ground ginger and black pepper. Pour sauce of the wings.

Bake wings for about 45 minutes, then turn the wings over. At this point about 1/2 the sauce should be left. Continue to bake for another hour and 10 minutes, or until the sauce is sticky and the wings are super tender.

Let the wings cool until you are able to handle them. Serve and enjoy!