Thanksgiving, solo

Here are some ideas and options for those who’ll be on their own for Thanksgiving.
Note: for an à deux variation, double quantities and add candles. And possibly cutlery, depending on your solo dining customs.

The first thing to know is how to cut down a recipe, which is pretty easy but does take some basic math. First, look at the number of servings the recipe makes (or figure out how much you want to cut it by estimating its yield). I usually want at least two of their “servings” for one of my meals, but sometimes I end up with a little left. Figure out what you need to divide the number of servings (or the amount of the main ingredient) by: if the recipe makes four servings and you only want two, you’ll be halving the recipe (dividing everything by two); if it calls for three pounds of beans and you think one pound is plenty, you’ll be dividing everything by three. Once you have this number, divide all the ingredient amounts by that number. Here’s a conversion chart and cheat-sheet for halving and thirding (is that a word?) a recipe, to get you started.

The bird:
You can go with the traditional thing, get a turkey breast roast and still eat it for a week, but what if you prefer dark meat? I’ve never seen a turkey leg roast. Someone really should talk to Butterball…

Meanwhile, here are some other ideas for your main course:
— a game hen (actually a small breed of chicken)
— a chicken, which will leave some leftovers for those all-important Black Friday turkey-and-cranberry sandwiches (for that “extra-small turkey” effect, try a pastured one)
— break with tradition completely and go for a nice piece of salmon or a bunch of shrimp (my favorite Fish and bananas is excellent “fancied up” by making it with halibut).

Stuffing:
I confess, I’m not picky about stuffing and make do with a box of the “soak in hot water until it turns into fluffy goo” kind.

Traditional from-scratch dressing

Cornbread dressing

The vegetable:
Green beans seem to be traditional. Easy enough to cook fewer and top with chopped bacon or sliced almonds browned in butter.

For a European flare, have some Brussels sprouts instead. Only, go to the farmers’ market and get the nice fresh post-frost ones. They’re sweeter after a frost, and fresher is always better. The secret to good sprouts, by the way, is to peel off all the dark leaves so you’re left with little cabbage-green marbles.

Or if you don’t care about keeping it seasonal, treat yourself to a bundle of the $6/lb. imported “fresh” asparagus, if you can find any worth eating, or some frozen if you can’t. DO NOT EAT CANNED asparagus, it’s not actually food.

The potato:
When someone else isn’t making them, I don’t usually bother with mashed potatoes. True, they’re not hard to make, but when it comes right down to it, I’d just as soon have another helping of bird or some more sprouts. But if your Thanksgiving would be spoiled without the potatoes, let me just point out a couple of alternatives to mashing that are easier for a small serving: baked and ” target=”_blank”>fried (or how about just a bag of chips? Certainly simple…).

Another alternative root-vegetable option is celeriac baked in cream made with one celery root, but finding a small enough baking dish may be a challenge; maybe a small ramekin?

The sweet potato:
AKA yam; very good mashed or fried, or in fact any way but candied (although my father would disagree).

The cranberries:/
There is absolutely no reason to buy a big can of cranberry sauce when it’s just for you (as far as I can tell, the only reason to buy canned is the presence of children who demand the jellied stuff). It’s so easy to make, and we have such nice cranberry farms in our area. Granted, it’s difficult to make a couple of spoonsful at a time, but it cans and freezes well (I like to can it in those little 4-oz jars) and will taste awesome on a chicken sandwich next summer.

Cranberry sauce on the fly
Wash and pick over the cranberries; discard any that are soft or ugly, but a few pale spots are OK. Start with at least of cup of berries, more if you don’t have a little 1-qt saucepan (once you know what you’re doing, you can try making less if you really want to). Add enough orange juice or water to keep them from burning, at least 1/4 inch and up to maybe 1/3 the depth of the berries in the pan. Cover if you can and cook on about medium-low (start low and nudge it up if they don’t reach a simmer in a reasonable time), stirring occasionally, until the berries pop. Be patient, but after 10 minutes or so of simmering you’re allowed to press the remaining berries gently with the spoon to “encourage” them to pop sometime this year. Sweeten to taste with whatever sweetener you prefer.

Dessert
I vote for cookies or brownies for dessert, but I’ve never been a fan of pies. OK, so most recipes make more than 1-2 servings and you’ll have leftovers. If this is a problem, you’re welcome to send them to me. Or for a truly low-effort dessert, there’s always the “box of graham crackers and can of ready-to-eat frosting” option.

Gratitude
Possibly the most important dish. There are all sorts of things for the Thanksgiving soloist to be thankful for; here are a few ideas:
— No huge turkey taking up fridge space… or the couch.
— No over-perfumed (or under-washed) relatives, whom you’ll be expected to hug anyway.
— No one at your table will throw:
–food
–tantrums
–up (or if “someone” does, you’ll be too preoccupied to care)
— You can mount all your olives on your fingertips before eating then without anyone suggesting that you’re too old to play with your food (this method goes particularly well with the graham-cracker-and-frosting dessert option, by the way).
— No futile arguments over whether the TV should be on or off, or on which station, during dinner (since everyone knows The Game has to be on or you’ll end up on an NSA watch list…).
— No moral pressure to take and eat that half-spoonful of candied yam to be polite; or conversely, you can indulge that fantasy of eating the whole panful yourself.
— If you decide to forego the traditional turkey-and-trimmings in favor of an enormous bowl of mashed potatoes or a dozen doughnuts with whipped-cream dip, it’s no one’s business but your own. Ditto if you end up spending the day binge-watching the 20 best Halloween movies or playing Pong.
— That “discussion” of whether it’s more virtuous to kill vegetables than animals doesn’t have to happen.
— Neither do the “discussions” about bringing toys to the table, poking one’s brother/sister/cousin with one’s fork/knife/finger/turkey bone, gas emissions of either sort, or staying seated during the entire meal even if you’re finished.
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Some extra recipe links:

Chicken with cognac sauce/a>
Braised salmon with leeks
more Brussels sprouts recipes, some kinda odd.
Pumpkin pie smoothie
Rosemary mashed potatoes and yams

Pumpkins

Pumpkins grown for decoration (such as jack o’lanterns) are not suitable for eating; look for “pie pumpkins” or “sugar pumpkins” for baking. To save effort on a pumpkin pie without giving up your good home-made flavor, avoid the canned pumpkin pie filling and look for plain canned pumpkin puree (the label may say things like “unsweetened” and “100% pumpkin”), to which you can then add whatever your favorite recipe calls for.

You should also to be aware that squash of all kinds cross readily with any gourds growing in the area. Avoid squash with “warts” on the skin (compare a normal pumpkin with one of the “knucklehead” ones to see what I’m talking about). Warty squash are likely to have taste and/or texture issues.

Savory Black Pepper–Parmesan Cookies

2 hard-boiled egg yolks, pressed through a fine sieve
2 cups flour
1 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 tsp. salt, or to taste
1 tsp. black pepper, or to taste
3/4 cup chilled butter, chopped
2 Tbsp. heavy cream

In a food processor, pulse yolks, flour, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. Add butter and pulse until it reaches the texture of coarse meal. Add cream and pulse just until dough forms a ball. Roll out between 2 sheets of parchment paper to 1/2 inch thickness. Place dough, still in the paper, on a baking sheet and freeze for 10 minutes. Remove top sheet of paper and bake 10 minutes at 350F. Remove from oven, cut into 1 1/2-inch diamonds, and return to oven to bake until golden brown, another 18–20 minutes. Cool on baking sheet placed on a wire rack.
Yield: about 6 dozen.

Adapted from a recipe by Bon Appétit.

Some more recipes to help use up all those Easter eggs:

Incredible Egg recipe collection

Curried egg salad sandwiches

Gribiche (hard-boiled egg) dressing, which can be used to make:
Arctic char with greens and gribiche dressing
New potatoes with Parmesan, black pepper, and gribiche dressing
Sauteed asparagus and morels with gribiche dressing

Bacon and egg tortellini

Campanelle with eggs and capers

And here’s a set of recipes for natural egg dyes to help start the whole circus off.

Getting the shells off
As Farmers’ Market shoppers, you’ve no doubt noticed that those lovely fresh eggs tend to cling to their shells when boiled. One way to avoid this problem (or at least attempt to) is to buy your eggs a month in advance and let them age, or buy them at a supermarket where it’s been done for you. However, since egg production increases as the chickens get more daylight, there will be more eggs closer to Easter, and anyway who wants to eat old eggs? Another option a hen-keeping friend suggests is to leave the eggs on the kitchen counter 1-2 days before cooking, which has a similar effect and adds the advantage of bringing the eggs to room temperature, which helps keep them from cracking when you cook them.

One trick I’ve had good luck with is to peel the eggs as soon as they’re cool enough to handle; not, alas, an option if you need to refrigerate the eggs overnight so you can hide them in the morning. This leaves us with the nearly-as-effective technique of peeling them under warm running water, angling the egg so the water has as good a chance as possible to seep in between the egg and shell. Yes, this goes against food safety advice, so work carefully and consider the risk. Leave the eggs in the fridge until the last moment (giving them a good many hours to rechill after being found) and work with a pot of very cold water at hand to drop the eggs into as soon as they’re naked.

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Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish.
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.

Newsletters: 27 Oct., 2010

Excerpt from the Market Newsletter originally published on 27 Oct., 2010. View the full newsletter for all the photos and links.

Cooking, and reading about cooking
As you were probably expecting, here are some fun Halloween recipes. I have always loved Halloween and enjoy seeing all the food art it inspires.

Chocolate mice
1 c (6 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 c sour cream
12 chocolate wafer cookies, finely crushed
1/2 c unsweetened cocoa
1/2 c powdered sugar
butter (optional; for greasing your hands)
24 cinnamon imperials, mini chocolate chips, or mini M&Ms, for eyes
24 almond slices, for ears
red and black licorice laces, for tails
Melt the chocolate over hot water (or in the microwave, carefully). Stir in sour cream and cookie crumbs; chill no more than 15-20 min., until firm. Butter your hands, if desired, and roll chocolate mixture into 12 oval mouse bodies; place on waxed paper. Roll half the mice in powdered sugar and half in cocoa. Press candies and almond slices into the pointed end to make faces and poke 3-inch lengths of licorice lace into the rounded end for tails. May be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Witches’ knuckles
1 c water
1/2 c butter
1 c flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
4 eggs
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 c extra sharp cheddar cheese (4 oz.), grated
1 egg yolk lightly beaten with 1 Tbsp. water
dried whole rosemary leaves
9 pieces sliced pepperoni, quartered
Bring water and butter to a boil; remove from heat and stir in flour, salt, cumin, and chili powder. Return to heat and cook 1-2 min., stirring constantly, until the dough stars to pull away from the sides of the pan. Remove from heat and continue stirring 1-2 min., until slightly cooled. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well between each. Stir in mustard and cheese. Put dough in a pastry bag (or make one by cutting a 1/2-inch hole in the corner of a plastic bag). Squeeze 3-inch-long fingers onto 2 baking sheets lined with baking parchment or waxed paper. Brush with egg yolk mixture; add a pepperoni fingernail to one end of each and place a few rosemary leaves in the center of the finger as knuckle lines. Bake at 400F for 15-18 min., until the fingers are golden brown and crisp. Serve warm.

Both from: Ghoulish goodies / Sharon Bowers. Storey Pub., c2009.

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Newsletters: 20 Mar, 2011

Excerpt from the Market Newsletter originally published on 20 Mar, 2011. View the full newsletter for all the photos and links.

In the garden
The WSU Master Gardeners recommend fertilizing this month. You can also divide late-blooming perennials, plant out those cabbage-family seedlings you started last month, and sow seeds for beets, chard, lettuce, onions, peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach and turnips directly outdoors.

In the kitchen
Did you expect a recipe for green punch or corned beef this month? Nah, you can get those anywhere. Did you know that the 16th of March is St. Urho’s Day? St. Urho’s Day was invented by Finnish-Americans in reply to all the uproar over St. Patrick, and is celebrated by wearing royal purple and Nile green and eating a traditional Finnish soup called mojakka. So this month you get mojakka recipes! OK, yeah, they’re a little late, but think of all the planning time you have for next year.

Ancient Finnish Secret Mojakka
2 lbs. cod fillets
1 c. (or to taste) stout beer, such as Guinness
ca. 1/2 c. brown sugar
2 lbs. diced red potatoes
3 ribs celery, diced
ca. 12 green onions, diced
10 oz. frozen spinach, thawed
1 pt. heavy cream
1 lb. butter
1 pt. skim milk
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 tsp. oregano
Dissolve brown sugar in beer in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add cod fillets and cook for about 5 minutes per side. Remove from heat and flake into bite-sized pieces. Boil potatoes until nearly tender. Combine cream, butter and skim milk and heat thoroughly. Add salt, pepper and oregano. Layer potatoes, celery, green onions, spinach and cod in a slow cooker. Stir in cream mixture. Cook on low for 3-4 hours.
Yield: About 3 quarts.

Mumu’s Mojakka
1 lb. beef stew meat
3 qt. water
4 med. Yukon Gold potatoes, partially peeled, in bite-sized chunks
6 carrots, thickly sliced
1 med. rutabaga in bite-sized chunks
4-6 ribs celery, thickly diced
4 small turnips in bite-sized chunks
2-3 tsps. whole black peppercorns
1-2 tsps. whole allspice
Salt to taste
4 to 5 bay leaves
Combine beef and water and boil for 20 minutes; skim to clear broth. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil; simmer about 20 min. until meat and vegetables are tender. Adjust seasonings. Continue to simmer to blend flavors.
Yield: 6-8 hearty servings.

Both from: Mojakka.com

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Two recipes for two

Cauliflower Bisque with Brown Butter Croutons

1 c. whole milk
1 1/4 c. vegetable stock
approx. 1/2 lb. cauliflower florets
1/3 lb. (or a little over) Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 sprigs thyme
salt and pepper to taste
3 Tbsp. heavy cream

garnish:
1 recipe Brown Butter Croutons (see below)
about 3 Tbsp. pomegranate seeds
chopped chives to taste

Combine milk, stock, cauliflower, potato, onion, garlic, and thyme in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Simmer, partly covered, 18-20 min., until vegetables are very tender. Discard thyme sprigs. Working in batches, puree in a blender until smooth. Add cream and pulse to combine. Adjust seasonings; serve topped with croutons, pomegranate seeds, and chives.

Brown Butter Croutons

1 1/2 tbsp. butter (preferably unsalted)
1 1/2 c. ciabatta bread, cubed
salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook, swirling occasionally, until golden brown, 2-4 minutes. Add bread and cook, stirring often, until toasted, 10-12 minutes. Season.

Adapted from Country Living

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Filet Mignon with Rich Balsamic Glaze

2 filet mignon steaks, about 4 oz each
black pepper to taste
salt to taste, optional
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup dry red wine

Generously pepper both sides of each steak; salt to taste. Place in nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and brown about 1 minute on each side. Reduce heat to medium-low; add balsamic vinegar and red wine. Cover and cook for 4 minutes on each side, or until done, basting with sauce when turning. Remove to warmed plates and top each steak with a tablespoon of glaze; serve immediately.

Adapted from allrecipes.com

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Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish.
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.

Newsletters: 17 Jan., 2011

Excerpt from the Market Newsletter originally published on 17 Jan., 2011. View the full newsletter for all the photos and links.

A new year, another couple of recipes

It’s only January, but I have to talk about Valentine’s Day this month because the February newsletter will be too late. If, like me, you’re too practical and down-to-earth (and aggressively single) to enjoy all that mushy stuff, feel free to roll your eyes. Next month I’ll talk about the cold, dark winter and the patience of seeds in the dark warmth of the earth, I promise.

My favorite Valentine’s Day story is about a young couple (no, not Gift of the Magi; I think this was a Reader’s Digest filler) who agreed not to buy each other Valentine’s Day gifts, to save money. So the Day came, and the young man produced a package for his beloved, which turned out to be a small volume of love poems. His wife was delighted, but objected that they had agreed not to buy gifts that year. With a grin, he pointed out the library stamp, and the due date.

The thing is, it is possible to be romantic without spending a bunch of money. Going out for a fancy dinner and show is a lot of fun, true, but I submit that staying in for dinner and a show can be just as good a date. In fact, staying home has some advantages — if only that the couch is a far more comfortable place to neck than movie theater seats. You can of course rent a movie, but I encourage you to emulate the young man in the story. The library has movies for free, you can usually keep them longer, and if the hold line is too long to get the one you want soon enough, why not pick up some silly old musical or even a “B” horror movie? I mean, how much of it are you really going to watch, considering that comfy couch and all?

About that food…
I went looking in Isabel Allende’s Aphrodite for a discussion of food erotica — basically, reading cookbooks in bed, dreaming of all that rich and succulent food — but instead found an interesting discussion of the seductiveness of culinary ability in men. So, knowing that many men are more comfortable in front of a grill than at a kitchen counter, I thought a little commentary on barbecuing in the winter might be useful to my gentlemen readers.

Winter grilling by Kelly Iverson
(with advice from Barbecue Master Kevin Iverson)
So you want to grill steaks for your sweetie on Valentines Day, huh? Well, relax, winter grilling isn’t all that different from summer grilling; the basics remain the same but with a winter spin. You trade the T-shirt for a parka, flip-flops for hunter socks and boots and the cold beer for a hot-buttered rum. Seriously, it isn’t that different, the cold affects the heat that is produced by the grill so you either run the grill hotter or extend the time it takes to cook the steak. If you can be out of the wind, if there is one, is even better as the wind sucks the heat away even faster requiring not only a hotter grill but also more time. So grab those steaks and your parka, fire up the grill and plan on a great, winter-grilled dinner with your favorite person!

To finish off, here are a couple of dishes with supposed aphrodisiac qualities, from Aphrodite : a memoir of the senses / Isabel Allende. HarperFlamingo, c1998. I was going to suggest strawberries dipped in chocolate, which are a classic, but this is the wrong season for strawberries. I wonder if one could make a sort of dried-strawberry bark…?

Noodles with artichoke
1/3 c olive oil
1 c bottled marinated artichokes, chopped, liquid reserved
1 small jar pimentos
1/4 c pine nuts (optional)
1/2 lb. noodles, cooked and drained
2 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
6 large black or green olives, chopped
2 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
2 Tbsp. minced fresh basil
salt, pepper to taste
Heat oil, artichoke liquid, pimentos, and pine nuts. Combine all ingredients in the warm noodle pot. May also be made a day ahead and served cold.

Curried sea bass
1/2 small onion, quartered
1/2 carrot, sliced
1 bouquet garni
salt, pepper to taste
1 c water
2 sea bass fillets, skinned and washed
1/2 lemon
Boil onion, carrot, bouquet garni, salt, and pepper in water 15 min. Rub the fish with the lemon and place in a pot; cover with boiling water mixture. Cook 15 min. on low. Remove and keep warm. Reserve liquid for sauce.
sauce:
1 tsp. butter
1 tsp. curry powder
1/2 Tbsp. vinegar
1/2 tart apple, peeled and grated
pinch brown sugar
1 tsp. flour
liquid from cooking fish
1/2 c coconut milk
2 heaped Tbsp. grated coconut
salt, pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. cream
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
Melt butter; stir in curry powder, vinegar, apple, and sugar. Add flour and cook 5 min. on low. Gradually stir in reserved fish liquid, coconut milk, and coconut; continue cooking 10 min. Adjust seasonings; keep warm but do not allow to boil. Add cream and egg yolk; pour over fish.

Well, and one more, just because of the name.

Chicken breast Valentino
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. flour
1/2 c. cream
1/2 c. chicken stock
1 whole chicken breast (i.e. both sides), quartered
salt, pepper to taste
1 egg yolk beaten with a little milk
1 Tbsp. cooked, chopped red pepper
4 Tbsp. Kahlua
1/2 tsp. salsa picante
1/2 t Worcestershire sauce
1/4 c chopped roasted peanuts
Melt butter and mix in flour; add cream and chicken stock, being careful to prevent lumps. Add chicken and season. Cover and cook 30 min. on low, turning occasionally. Add egg yolk, red pepper, Kahlua, salsa, and Worcestershire sauce. Cook another 10 min., stirring gently. Sprinkle with peanuts. May be made ahead and reheated.

The gardening season officially begins on January 1st, and ends on December 31.
— Marie Huston —

And love can come to everyone,
The best things in life are free.
— Lew Bowen & Buddy De Silva, Good news —

Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence.
— H. L. Mencken —

There are few virtues a man can possess more erotic than culinary skill.
— Isabel Allende —

Who can give law to lovers? Love is a greater law to itself.
— Boethius, De consolatione philosophiae —

Quien bien te quiere te hará llorar (Anyone who loves you well will make you cry).
— Spanish proverb —

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