Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Count down to Turkey Day! Don't panic!

Okay, so you've got 20 people headed to your home for Thanksgiving and the panic has set in. Take a deep breath and relax. Get a pen and paper and make the following lists:

Grocery shopping list
Housewares list - bigger coffee pot, extra linens etc
Menu items
Cleaning list
Timeline - list all the dishes and how long they take to prep and cook, note recipes that can be made ahead of time.

Decide what to delegate. Yes, delegate you don't have to do it all to be a good host. Thanksgiving is about enjoying family and you can't enjoy them if you are running around town for 3 days before Thanksgiving and then cooking all day on Thanksgiving. So delegate! It makes others feel more a part of the day.

Get out your serving pieces and label them with sticky notes so that anyone can fill them on Thanksgiving. You can't imagine how much time you can spend just putting food on platters. Decide who in your family is great at making things look pretty. Have a few washed garnishing items like kale and red leaf lettuce. I always wish Dianne, assistant at Williams Sonoma, or Allyson & Alicia from the farm were around to help me plate. They do a lovely job and they have more patience than I do! Really you don't have to do everything yourself. It is more fun if you get others involved.

When planning your menu have items that can be made ahead of time, items that can be purchased and 1 or 2 highlighted dishes. Not everything has to be a star. Great purchased items include; cheese, a lovely cheese board can get you compliments for years and is little work, olives, nuts, cured meats like proscuitto, quick breads and crackers.

Prepping vegetables ahead of time can be a real time saver. I wash and trim my green beans and blanch them in boiling water for about 4 minutes and then shock them in ice water. I drain them and put them in a baggie in the fridge. I saute them with butter and almonds right before serving. I wash and peel sweet potatoes and squash and store in the fridge. I love to roast a bunch of root vegetables in the morning and then just reheat before serving. Roasted vegetables are easy and please lots of picky eaters. Mashing potatoes stay hot for multiple hours in a crock pot!!! See past post on the perfect mashed potatoes.

Don't forget to let your turkey rest. If it weighs in at 18 or more lbs. it should rest for 45 minutes covered in foil. While it rests make the gravy and fill the serving platters with food and put them on the table.

Have a great day. Don't forget to enjoy yourself, and if you cooked, someone else should clean up! Gobble gobble.

Monday, November 16, 2009

10 Steps to the Best Mashed Potatoes

Okay, Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Mashed potatoes are on everyone’s menu, and why not they are fluffy and buttery and a perfect vehicle for gravy. They encompass everything that is wonderful about comfort food. All of my friends that are on a diet please disregard this recipe or only have these for Thanksgiving this is NOT a low calorie recipe but I don’t eat mashed potatoes except on the holidays and when I do I go all out. Here are my top 10 tips for making the best fluffy, creamy, mashed potatoes:

1. Use a ricer. It looks like a big garlic press but keeps you from over mixing your potatoes. Have you ever had gluey mashed potatoes? They were overworked, maybe you used an electric hand mixer? Don’t ever put them in a food processor and I would also avoid a KitchenAid too.– Here is a link to a ricer at Williams Sonoma.

2. Don’t peel your potatoes. Wash them well and boil them whole. This way you get great potato flavor instead of watery potatoes. If you use a ricer you can cut them in half, putting the cut half down in the ricer and the skin will stay in the ricer. No peeling ahead of time! Be sure to have a hand towel handy the potatoes will be hot.

3. Start the potatoes in cold water.

4. Use the right potatoes. Use Russet or baking potatoes for fluffy potatoes but be careful not to overwork them. OR Use Yukon Gold potatoes for buttery flavor and if you insist on using an electric hand-mixer as Yukon Golds are less likely to get gluey. They have less starch than Russets.

5. Warm your cream or milk before adding to your potatoes.

6. Don’t let your potatoes cool before you mash them.

7. Keep them warm in a crockpot for several hours or put them in a casserole dish and top with a little extra butter and put a lid on. You can keep the casserole dish in a 350 oven for an hour, maybe an hour and half.

8. Use Crème Fraiche instead of cream.

9. Flavor with a little something extra – 1 head of roasted garlic or caramelized shallots, fried leeks, Parmesan cheese.

10. Workout a little harder at the gym on Wednesday so you can enjoy these mashed potatoes worry free.

Creme Fraiche Mashed Potatoes
2 lb Russet Potatoes
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 8oz container of crème fraiche
salt, to taste

Boil the wash potatoes whole until cooked through, about 20 minutes. Drain and cut in half. Use a ricer to mash the potatoes. Add 2 tsp. Salt, the butter, cut into pieces and the crème fraiche and stir until the butter is melted and the potatoes are creamy. Season to taste. Add warm cream or milk to make a softer, silkier mashed potato.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Biggest Loser - Cooking Class

Last night I had the pleasure of doing a Healthy Foods class for my friend Nicole. What a great group of women. These gals are competing at a local gym to see who can lose the most weight. Go Ladies!

We started the class last night with a couple of breakfast items because we know how important it is to eat breakfast but making food when you are barely awake can be dangerous. So we made steel-cut oatmeal and mini frittatas. The best part is both can be made ahead. Steel-cut oatmeal takes about 30 minutes to cook but if you do it Sunday night you can heat individual portions Mon-Fri mornings and just add toppings: agave syrup instead of sugar, dried fruits like cranberries and cherries(for antioxidants) and nuts(omega 3s). Yum! The mini frittatas can be heated in the microwave or oven and because they are small they heat quickly.

For those with a sweet tooth don't try to cut out all sweets. Control your portions and have a little something to satisfy the craving. I love SweetRiot they are Cacao nibs, lightly roasted, dunked in 65% dark chocolate for true chocoholics. They are crunchy and chocolately and only 1-2 calories a "peace". Love these! I found them at New Morning in Woodbury, CT
http://www.sweetriot.com/ Let the riot begin...

The Main entrees were Seared Tuna with a soy/sherry glaze and a cocoa-rubbed Pork Tenderloin. These were served with Sesame Roasted Green Beans.

Sherry Glazed Tuna Steaks

Serving Size : 4
4 7 Oz Tuna Steaks, can be frozen, defrost under running water
1 Tbsp coarsely cracked black pepper
2 tsp oriental sesame oil
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1/4 cup dry Sherry
2 Tbsp Scallion — sliced fine

Sprinkle tuna steaks on both sides with coarsely cracked black pepper, pressing gently to adhere. Heat sesame oil in large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add tuna steaks and sear until brown outside and just opaque in center, about 3 minutes per side. Using tongs, transfer tuna steaks to platter. Tent platter loosely with foil to keep tuna steaks warm. Add soy sauce, then Sherry to same skillet. Reduce heat and simmer until mixture is slightly reduced, scraping up any browned bits, about 1 minute. Spoon sauce over tuna steaks. Sprinkle with chives or green onion tops.

Based on a recipe by
Bon Appétit | August 1999
Joan Brett, Boulder, CO

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Wine Downs and Flight of the Woodcock

It has been a fun culinary weekend and it isn’t over yet. Friday night we had one of our last Wine Downs at Jones Farm. We have two more Wine Downs before we close the season in December. What a great time of year to be on the farm. Bursts of color everywhere, the air is crisp, and I just can’t get enough of the spicy flavors that really shine when the weather starts to turn cool. Beautiful pumpkins and squash in different sizes and colors are everywhere you turn. I can’t wait to experiment with some of the lesser know squashes. At Friday’s Wine Down, A Chill is in The Air, we were lucky to have Larry McCulloch join us to talk about wine making. Larry has over 25 years of experience in wine making and like everyone else here at Jones is passionate about what he does. Larry talked about what to expect from this year’s yield and I couldn’t help but picture next year’s Wine Downs. There is something about being on a farm that really makes you take note of the passage of time. You think in terms of seasons and weather.

We started with a pumpkin hummus, sounds odd I know but it disappeared in a flash and even the those “suspicious” of vegetables enjoyed it. We served the hummus with toasted pita chips, broccoli and cauliflower, fresh from the farm. We served this with HARVEST TIME, an apple and pear wine that is delicately sweet with crisp fruit flavors. Next we moved on to the main course, an over-stuffed-pumpkin. We used a Blue Hubbard Squash. This is the original squash used for pumpkin pie. It has a wonderful, sweet and complex flavor. We stuffed the hubbard with a cornbread and chicken-sausage stuffing. We paired this with our Cabernet Franc, a great wine for vegetarian dishes, as well as, pork. Then we sampled some local cheeses(more on cheese when I talk about my Flight of the Woodcock) and paired these with our Merlot. For dessert we enjoyed a spicy pumpkin cake with sautéed apples. For dessert we served out First Blush. We had a full house of 20 wonderful people.

The Flight of the Woodcock

Saturday brought more culinary adventures. Sally and Thomas Camm from The Artisan Food Store, which I am happy to say is located in Southbury, CT hosted a Meet the Cheese-Maker event. Mark Fisher from Woodcock Farm, in Weston, Vermont spoke about how Woodcock Farm started making cheese 10 years ago. Mark and Gari Fisher started with sheep because it is easier start with sheep’s milk than cow’s milk. Cows require a much large area of land to raise and it takes 10 lbs of cow’s milk to make 1 lb of cheese where as it only takes 5 lbs of sheep’s milk to make 1 lb of cheese. The cheeses were outstanding and Mark who was an artist before making cheese is again an artist, now his artistry starts with milk. Here are the cheeses we tasted:

Feta (Sheep)
Raw milk feta made in a Bulgarian Style (one of my favorites)

Cloud 9 (Cow)
Mold ripened soft and creamy

Summer Snow (Sheep) - this will soon be gone... Enjoy while it lasts
Mold Ripened, unctuous and rich

Humble Pie (Cow)
Washed Rind Cheese, mellow and rich

Timberdoodle (Cow/Sheep) Another Favorite of mine
Washed Rind Havarti Style Cheese – We had this cheese at the Wine Down on Friday

Weston Wheel (Sheep) I can't get enough of this cheese
Aged Cheese, nutty and tangy

True Blue (Cow)
Smooth creamy soft style of blue

The cheeses were paired with wine. The wines were supplied by Nutmeg Wine and Spirits in Woodbury. The first wine was Jones Vineyard, Pinot Gris(no they didn’t know I was coming :-). Sally had us try the feta with the Pinot Gris first alone and then with a lovely tabouli and the feta. A wonderful pairing. They also served Hopkins Vineyard Lady Rosé another wonderful CT wine. Don’t be afraid, it is a nice dry Rosé and it paired nicely with Cloud 9.