Sunday, November 30, 2008

Wake up the Cranberry Sauce!

Long before the appetizers are set out for a day long "noshing fest" the girls & I were up early chopping, cutting & simmering. Many hands do make light work, thank goodness I was blessed with daughters. In our family the Thanksgiving dinner is not complete without Cranberry Sauce. The mechanical "suction noise" of store bought cranberry sauce in a can is virtually unheard in our home. My mother used to make fabulous cranberry sauce when we lived in Alaska & could pick wild cranberries. These days however we rely on the bags of farm raised berries. My version of Cranberries for the holiday adds Triple Sec to wake it up a bit & heighten the orange & tart/sweet flavors. Some years ago my sister simmered brandy into her sauce & it really packed a punch. There is no one right way to make Cranberry sauce but here is my current version.

Cooking & the 3 F's of Thanksgiving= Family, Food, Football!

Cranberry Sauce
2- 12 ounce bag of fresh cranberries, rinsed
3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup water
1/4 cup Triple Sec liquor
2 mandarin oranges, seeded, cut the segments into halves,
1 whole cinnamon stick (to be removed after cooking)
1 tsp. finely grated orange rind (optional)

Place the cranberries, oranges, rind, sugar & water into sauce pan & bring to a low rolling boil. Once cranberries are boiling, reduce heat to simmer, add Triple Sec & stir frequently. Once the berry skins have burst, achieved a translucent quality & thickened slightly remove from heat & let cool. Remove the whole cinnamon stick. This sauce is good for home canning/processing but then our family never has much left over after the holiday. This recipe can also be frozen immediately or cut in half if you don't need this quantity. If I don't have oranges & feel there is a little more sweet needed I add in 1 small undrained can of crushed pineapple. This recipe is very forgiving & you can get creative.
*I have also used whole star anise or ginger in this recipe.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Brussels Sprout fit for one Grande Bird!

Brussels Sprout flavored with Chardonnay & Bacon just might become my new favorite~
While recently shopping for our family Thanksgiving dinner I stayed focused on my shopping list at the grocery store. Truly not always an easy task given my penchant for locating those hard to find items each trip we return from Mexico to our home in Texas. Holiday meal planning has grown less stressful during the last few years since I have daughters of an age who will takeover & share the big meal preps with me in the kitchen. (Fabulous really!!) I am truly amazed how our holiday meals fall into place as my girls give input & ideas for our meal. In the past I would feel overwhelmed & compelled to have all of the ultra traditional side dishes. I have finally figured out that each holiday becomes a new tradition as we morph dishes to suit our needs & local available produce. Truth be told the favorite dishes which are enjoyed the most are that which are the most simple with the freshest ingredients. Frankly, who needs to fret over each dish? This is not the first time we have had Brussels Sprout for a holiday meal but certainly a new spin on an old favorite. The flavor of the Sprouts seemed a perfect side for our Turkey. What you probably didn't know about Brussels Sprout...other than correct spelling of these green delights?

Chardonnay & Bacon Brussels Sprout
1 Stalk Brussels Sprout (not on stalk, 2-2 1/2 lb)
1/2 lb. mesquite smoked, thick cut bacon
8 oz. Chardonnay Wine
1/2 med. Yellow Spanish Onion, diced
pepper & salt to taste

Remove Brussels Sprout from stalk with sharp twisting motion. Trim any excess stem at the bottom of each Brussels Sprout head. Cut the Brussels Sprout into quarters, rinse.
Cook bacon until almost crisp, add onion & continue to saute. Scrape pan to remove any bacon from the bottom & sides of pan, place the Brussels Sprout in pan with bacon, onion & saute for 15 minutes. Pour wine over the Brussels Sprout, continue to cook till tender crisp. Add Salt & Pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Serves 8-10.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Aztec Pie, warm dish for a cool evening.

Just prior to the onslaught of pies, desserts & stuffings wash over us in a warm holiday buzz I thought I'd post a different type of pie recipe from South of the Border. Pay (pronounced pie) Azteca is a traditional Mexican dish which is an easy casserole perfect for the upcoming holiday rush. The warm cheese layers & hearty quality of this dish make it a wonderful choice for cool weather. Mexico's ancient Tenochtitlan later known as the Aztec used corn in much of their food. In this recipe I used roasted Poblano Peppers which we can always locate in Mexico (*if those are unavailable canned roasted green chilies can be substituted). The origins of this dish are rather blurred by time & history but the traditional dish has popularity both north & south of the border. Besides it's as easy as....

Aztec Pie~Pay Azteca

15 Corn tortillas, cut into triangles
1 1/2 cups Corn kernels, fresh or frozen
3 Poblano chili peppers roasted, peeled, seeded & cut into strips
2 cups Sour Cream
1 lg. egg
pinch of ground cumin
8 oz. Manchego, Oaxaca Cheese or Monterrey Jack grated
1/4 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 Lg. Tomato, diced
2 cups Tomato puree
salt, pepper to taste

Lightly bake tortillas @ 350 for 15 min. spread evenly on a cookie sheet, sprayed with vegetable spray.
Prepare the sauce by sauteing the onion, garlic & tomato for 5 minutes. Add the tomato puree & simmer 10 min. seasoning with salt & pepper to taste. Remove from heat. Mix sour cream & 1 beaten egg with pinch of cumin.
In an oven proof, greased 9 x 13 casserole: layer 1/2 of the tortillas, 1/2 of tomato sauce, 1/2 of the corn & poblano strips, 1/2 sour cream mixture, top with 1/2 cheese. Repeat layers ending with cheese. Bake in 350* oven for 30 minutes or till bubbling at the edge & slight golden color to the edges. Remove from heat, cool for 10 minutes, cut into squares & serve. This is great served with a tossed green salad & a nice white wine. Enjoy.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Thankful Heritage & giving thanks.

From my Grandfather & countless family members the lessons & savory teachings have lasted a lifetime.

I'm so thankful for my culinary memories & heritage which makes me yearn for the sweet & memorable meals for the past. There was an exquisite timing to Grandfather Harrington's perfect Sunday afternoon pot roasts. He taught me not to grab for the salt & pepper before tasting & savoring. Long before I understood; he imparted wisdom of watching the food as it cooked. He showed me that flavors either mellowed or reached the anticipated perfection. The experiences of seeing him in the kitchen or working in the restaurant showed me that if people enjoy the experience, food is almost secondary.
The women in my family later taught me that perfect baking measurements really matter but mistakes can be covered with mounds of icing & clouds of powdered sugar! The truly inspiring person in the family was my Mother who did wonders with simple ingredients turning every meal into an occasion. She taught my sister & I that food prepared with care for the family takes center stage even if you've made it a hundred times before. To this day my favorite meal is her fried chicken. My sister & I used to argue about who could have the chicken wishbone & then make a wish at the end of our meal as we broke it. (Does that sound strange & primitive to kids in 2008?)
My father's family had large holiday gatherings where boisterous groups of uncles, aunts & cousins would come together under one roof for a Texas size feast. At the appointed moment we were all drawn into the dining room at the ranch house towards what seemed like an endless buffet table loaded with turkey, stuffing, gravy & enough deserts to send a kid into orbit! It was difficult to concentrate when my Grandfather or some other family member said the Blessing & the kids waited to be served. (we always hoped the food wasn't growing cold & the prayer wasn't too long...) After the meal the adults retired to talk, play the traditional Texas game of "42" & kids could roam & play. The serious discussions of religion or politics always waited till after the food had digested. As we draw towards Thanksgiving 2008 the serious business of politics has finally been settled even if it has worn us out with months of pre election babble. For this I am truly thankful!! I look forward to some much needed family time. Now with my own family, I realize time is to be savored as much as the finest of wines. I hope my daughters realize the rich heritage they have inherited. Let the culinary heritage continue & the memories deepen. Family is a rich & sentimental mix! Cooking & family: blessed be the ties that bind throughout the South!