Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Dying Year

Well, well, well, whatever happened to December? My December was swallowed up in Christmas/Chanukah shopping, a trip to New York City, and a truly regrettable stomach bug. So I haven't been eating much recently. But hopefully my tummy will be back in shape for New Year's celebrations.

I wonder if there is some sort of end of year meme for food blogs floating around out there, but I'm too lazy to look for it. Suffice it to say, I am grateful for all of your attention and readership, and I am also pleased to find my interest in this blog still going strong. So I'll be back in 2009!!

In the meantime, I wish you all a lovely and happy new year. May 2009 bring health, wealth, and joy, as well, of course, as an abundance of good food.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Tofu Chronicles

Well, my friends, I have something thoroughly thrilling to tell you: I love alliteration.

Actually, that’s not what I had to tell you, but I thought it would be nice to let you know that tidbit about me as well. Anyway, my thoroughly thrilling news is this: I cooked tofu for the very first time. And I didn’t ruin it. And I loved it.

You know me, forever lacking in good, healthy forms of protein (cheese just doesn’t always count, you know?) Additionally, I’ve tried to give blood twice in the last 4 months and have had low iron counts each time. I don’t think I’m anemic to the point of needing to go to the doctor, but I don’t know that it’s a good sign either. So I’ve been thinking and looking around for iron-rich and protein-rich foods, especially ones that I can add to my lunch salads. There have, as late, been a lot of chick peas in my life.

I’ve never even been a big tofu fan. It can be slimy and sometimes tasteless. Asian flavors are also not really my favorite—as I’m sure you can tell, I generally favor Italian and other Western cuisines, along with a serious love for tex-mex and Indian. I mean, I have a soft spot in my heart for cheap Chinese, but I don’t think that really counts. I’m obsessed with tom yum soup (spicy, lemongrass-y Thai soup) and some Vietnamese, but on the whole, Asian cuisines are sort of low on my list.

I tweaked a recipe of Heidi Swanson’s, from 101 Cookbooks, for caramelized tofu with Brussels sprouts. She called for pecans and I had none on hand, and I wasn’t making the entire dish anyway, so I just made the tofu. You essentially heat some oil (I used olive, like I do for almost everything) and brown the tofu. Then toss in some tablespoons of brown sugar and let it all caramelize. The tofu ends up golden and sweet. I’ll probably cook it a little longer next week when I make this again, so it is crispier. I used Nasoya organic super firm cubed tofu, so that was probably why I avoided the dreaded sliminess.

I am going to wrap this post up (I should probably be doing actual work while I’m in the office) with a request. Give me more tofu recipes? Please? I am eager to expand my newly found tofu skills!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Guest Poster! The GF speaks

Blogger's Note: See, I told you I had a surprise. This year was not only the best Thanksgiving ever, but also the 1st time I've brought my significant other t0 Thanksgiving with my family. Brave of me, right? Here's what me dearest, darling GF has to report.

Like Cheesy said, Thanksgiving was just plain WOW. This was the first Thanksgiving I have spent south of the Mason-Dixon, and it was unbelievable. Now, while I certainly wasn't confronted with foods that I had never seen or heard of before (except for the dried-beef gravy and homemade biscuits, which darling Cheesy has kindly described in vivid detail), there were some subtle-yet-important differences between this Thanksgiving celebration and that of years past. I was born and raised in Connecticut, and lived an idyllic life there, galumphing with golden retrievers on autumn-speckled hillsides (much like any Lands End catalogue would suggest). Okay, so maybe that didn't happen, but you can sure tell I'm from New England. One of the most striking ways that this region asserts itself is through its food. And, in my newfound experience, Thanksgiving is very different in New England than the Thanksgiving I just enjoyed with Cheesy.

See where I'm going with this? It is a food blog, people.

In Thanksgivings past, I had become accustomed to certain dishes appearing annually, as most of us who celebrate this gluttonous holiday would expect. Some of these dishes include my mom's horseradish carrots (utterly delicious; round, thick carrot slices doused in a creamy horseradish sauce and baked in a round casserole dish with a sprinkling of breadcrumbs), pearled onions (wee tiny onions, about the size of your knuckle, smothered in cream), seriously tangy cranberry chutney with citrus rind, and these awesome AWESOME sweet potatoes, cut into generous chunks, mixed with similarly-chunked apples, apple cider, brown sugar and salt, and roasted.

Now, allow me a moment to contextualize. My mother, as Cheesy can attest, is a health-food nut. We only use margarine (never, NEVER butter), we only drink skim milk, and refined sugar is to be avoided. And while my mother will willingly cut loose on holidays (as the aforementioned recipes might suggest), she only lets a little bit hang out. Which means our Thanksgivings are a little on the lean side, calorie-wise. I thought Mom was being smart, and that I would never know the difference.


Mama Cheesy is an amazing cook, as we have seen in the breakfast posting my darling GF wrote. One would have to be an amazing cook to nearly-singlehandedly pull off a Thanksgiving for thirteen hungry folk. But good golly, the things that that woman whipped up were totally off my radar screen and out of this world. Let's start with the sides. You know you want to. As my dear Cheesy suggested, the mashed potatoes were unbelievable. I lent my relatively-muscular arm to helping mash the little suckers, and I was blown away by the result. Butter, butter everywhere, and buttermilk, too! And maybe sour cream. (Cheesy's note: I don't think sour cream was involved. But whatever.) I don't even know. They were seriously life-changing. And I don't even like mashed potatoes (probably because, I have come to realize, mashed potatoes at my usual Thanksgiving table are made with nonfat yogurt and margarine). There were two kinds of cranberry sauce; one cranberry-pomegranate concoction, and the ever-loved can of cranberry goo, which I thought was a figment of modern culture, but exists(!!) and is beloved by Mama Cheesy. There was cold roasted asparagus brought by a family member, and green beans… and then things started getting unfamiliar.

Now, my mother, back in the scenic lighthouse-dotted Faire-Isle sweater lands of New England, makes her stuffing with wild rice and sausage. It's a recipe she picked up from my Gran, her mother, who hails from St. Paul, Minnesota, the land of lupines, loons, and a ton of wild rice. It's amazing. It's delicious. And it's only ever cooked apart from the turkey.

WELL. We had TWO kinds of stuffing at Thanksgiving in Virginia, and was I ever unprepared. They were referred to as "wet" and "dry" stuffing, which, I will admit, sounded totally gross. The wet stuffing was cooked INSIDE the turkey, and then yanked out and served, and it was unbelievable. Mama Cheesy also includes sausage in her stuffing, but this was a bread-base and it soaked up all the delicious turkey essence. The dry stuffing had the same ingredients, but also included chestnuts(!!!) and was baked apart from the bird. It was amazing. I had both kinds. Twice. When you come from a family that stuffs their turkey with celery (for moisture), parsley and sage, and then discards said vegetation, wet stuffing is literally the 'stuff' of dreams.

Oh, wait, did I mention turkey? Oh boy. Mama Cheesy went nuts on this thing. It was an twenty-pound monster, which I thought would immediately go insanely dry, as larger turkeys at home tend to. But no, Mama Cheesy separated the skin from the meat and spread BUTTER mixed with Bell's seasoning, sage, and thyme right onto the bird, closed the thing up, and cooked it. This turkey was the most incredible thing to ever happen; so much so that Cheesy, Cheesy's big sister and I had to huddle in the darkened kitchen later that evening and eat some of the remaining meat straight from its Ziploc bag. It was moist and tender, even in the thickest, whitest parts of the meat. I wanted to bury my head in it.

Then came dessert. Last year, around my birthday, Cheesy and I decided to make a seriously failed celebratory dinner, for which I had bought spices and canned pumpkin in order to make my family's traditional pumpkin pie. For Thanksgiving, my mom will usually whip this up in addition to an apple pie or apple crisp (she's also been toying with a pear pie recipe for the last few years, but it calls for tapioca and never seems to go well. Don't tell her I said that). With the epic failure that was that dinner, the pie was never made… So Cheesy and I made it for Thanksgiving this year! It's a fantastic recipe, quick to cook, using a pat-in-the-pan cookie crust (with one cup of chopped pecans, it's basically a pecan sandy recipe). The filling was generously spiced and not too sweet, and it was delicious. Mama Cheesy supplied a great apple pie as well as an unbelievably decadent chocolate brandy pecan pie. She also made some delicious eggnog whipped cream to top all three pie options.

And I awoke from my food coma a week later to write this post.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Best. Thanksgiving. Ever.

Wow. Just wow. This year really was the best Thanksgiving ever. EVER. And this is saying quite a lot, coming from a girl whose favorite holiday, hands down, has always been Thanksgiving. Those mashed potatoes were quite certainly small, fluffy pieces of heaven.

How’s that for a teaser? You’ll just have to wait a while longer for the post about Thanksgiving Dinner proper, because there’s a surprise in the works. For the moment, I’m going to talk about all the other food I ate over Thanksgiving weekend. Actually, I’m just going to talk about breakfast.

I feel like I should have paid attention to the signs—I should have known that this weekend would be all about the breakfasts when the occupants of the car my GF and I rode down to Virginia in all cried out ecstatically when we spotted the one lone Waffle House in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I ate buttery, wonderful grits. It was definitely an omen.

I had every single one of my favorite breakfasts over Thanksgiving. My mother is a queen among women, and knows exactly what I want to eat when I come home for a visit. Here’s the daily breakdown:

-Thursday: fried eggs, bacon, and fresh baked blueberry muffins. I’m not a muffin person, but my mother makes the best muffins in three states. They are light and not too sweet, and filled with blueberries (though where she found blueberries this time of year, I’m not sure).

-Friday: MORE bacon (I love bacon), scrambled eggs, and my mother’s biscuits. I always feel quintessentially Southern when I say this, but it has to be said: no one—no one—makes biscuits like my mama makes ‘em (please supply the drawl in your head). They are perfect. She uses a recipe from an old 1930s cookbook for young wives (written by Meta Givens, for those of you who are interested). I continually wish I had the recipe…but I often refrain from getting it. What if they don’t turn out right?

-Saturday: the tour de force: dried beef gravy and pancakes. Now, I know the gravy should go on the biscuits. But in my family, it goes on pancakes. And it is sublime. Dried beef gravy—chipped beef to some of you—was one of the grandfather’s specialties. It’s a family favorite made from milk and flour and dried beef and onions. Not for the vegans, vegetarians, gluten-allergenic, or the faint of heart.

Maybe my next projects (besides learning to deal with tofu) should be to be like my mom in a new way—cook like her.