Friday, November 23, 2012

The Postponed Thanksgiving

While you all are enjoying turkey sandwiches or turkey noodle soup or some leftover Thanksgiving concoction that stretches the imagination much too far...I am preparing for our family's First Ever Postponed Thanksgiving.

This year, much loved members of our family had commitments elsewhere (and I won't point any fingers at the inlaws), which caused us to reject the traditional date for our Thanksgiving meal and moving it the Saturday after.

I am not a fan of messing with time. I find the falling back and springing forward of hours each year to be nonsense and a gross manipulation of human time clocks. Even my dog has a difficult time resetting his internal walk and feeding schedule...and don't get me started on the chickens. They march to their own beat despite daylight savings time.

Well, I'm certainly off topic now, so let's move on and take a peek into my Thanksgiving prep.

The turkey has been patted dry and is salted and resting in the fridge, a method I read at Simple Bites that assures crispy skin. The house is almost clean. The table has been extended to seat 12. The china is counted and the uber long tablecloth has been found. I've got all guests bringing dishes tomorrow, so really it's just turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, and stuffing on my list. Cooking will be easy to handle tomorrow, the day of the feast.

Except for stuffing. The stuffing starts today.

Oh and by the way, I'm actually making "dressing" this year because last year we did a comparison between the stuffing cooked inside the turkey and a casserole of dressing baked on the side - same exact ingredients in both...and guess which one won?

The one dug out of the turkey of course! All the drippings from the turkey really added flavor and kept it super moist. However, it was further determined that pouring a bit of gravy over the top was all the dressing needed to bring it up to par with the stuffing and with less hassle. Gosh, we have fun Thanksgivings.

So did I mention I'm making dressing? Yes. Let's get on with it shall we...
I use my mom's time honored recipe, which is recorded in a much used family cookbook compiled by one of my sisters. However, I treat the recipe as a set of guidelines, much like the Pirates Code. The recipe, for example, calls for Accent (msg), which I don't mind, but I know many who suffer terrible side effects from eating it. So I leave that out. Sometimes I add a little more onion or I have my own dried up bread on hand. It's fairly flexible.
Always, there is a base of homemade cornbread with very little sugar added. I used a Jiffy mix once and it was far to sweet, not even gravy could save it.
Next comes a package of dried croutons. Stale and hard as rock.
Next comes celery and yellow onions, which have been chopped and sautéed in 2 cubes of butter, as well as fresh parsley and chopped black olives.

The moisture that softens the dry croutons and binds all the ingredients together comes from milk and eggs, making this is sort of a savory bread pudding.
Last come the addition of seasonings. Even after I put them in, this step will not be complete for many hours. My mom will sample the dressing shortly and declare the need for more sage. Upon arriving tomorrow one sister will try it and throw in a little salt. Then another will taste and say it needs a bit more moisture. This is all before it is cooked, so yes, we are eating raw eggs. But we don't care. Tweaking the stuffing/dressing is a fine art and we are willing to subject ourselves to Salmonella for the sake of the meal.

And I am sure it will be a fine one.

Happy Thanksgiving...belated.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Compassionate Pie

Today, like oh so many days, I am cooking.

I'm baking a pie that will served at a fundraising dinner for a local non-profit organization called Compassion House.

The gal from the church hosting the event emailed the recipe for French Apple Pie to the dessert baking volunteers. Certainly this was done to keep the menu consistent. Can you imagine if one table of diners was indulging in gorgeous slices of homemade pie next to a table peeling the lids off tapioca pudding cups? There'd be jealous murmurs and mutinous actions to be sure. And that's not at all what this event is about.

Anyhew, despite the fact that I can follow any recipe set before me, baking desserts makes me nervous, and perhaps these insecurities compelled me to take pictures of the pie before it went into the oven, which brought back fond memories of rambling on my kitchensink unplugged blog. I enjoy taking a break from writing an epic novel, and just chatting randomly about food, so, hello. Here I am to do just that.

First, we must ask ourselves, why do the French get credit for so much? The kiss, the inhale, the toast and now, the apple pie? Can't they be happy with their Tarte Tatin?

A quick google of French Apple Pie revealed that the recipe was often remembered being seen in an old Betty Crocker who's to say really. 

Since I'm not a frequent baker of pies, all I can say is that the recipe was easy (especially since I used a store bought crust). Peeled and sliced apples tossed with cinnamon and sugar are "heaped" into a pie shell and dotted with butter. A topping is made by mixing flour, butter and brown sugar, which is "sprinkled" over the apples. The pie is baked, boom, done.

Easy? Yes. But that didn't stop my baking neurosis from kicking in.

First of all my apples went way beyond a heap. It was a precarious mountain of fruit and I had to leave off a bit just to appease my common sense. There was far too much topping to simply sprinkle, so I packed it onto the apple mountain forming a thick shell.

 Looking over the mountain before cooking:

Sadly out of focus side view of the mountain:

And finally (please don't laugh) after baking:

Oh, good Lord, I will never be asked to contribute a baked good to this worthy organization again. My only saving grace was that I did sample a piece of apple that tumbled off the mountain as well as some of the juices that caramelized onto the baking sheet underneath and the flavor was EXTRAORDINARY.

Oh those French, they have a way with food.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Oatmeal Obsession

I'm not being a malicious trickster. It's just the fact that oatmeal is said to help lower cholesterol that has propelled me into an obsession to get my husband to unknowingly consume it by masking its presence.

But it was imperative to find out what exactly it was about oatmeal that turned him off. In an effort to reveal his repulsion, I pummelled him with questions that were met with answers like: "I don't know." "It's gross." and "I can't see the tv."

Reading between the lines, I determined that it was the creamy/slimy texture and sweetness of a hot bowl of oatmeal that was unappealing to him.

The key would be to make it savory and more rustic. Furthermore, I needed to add to the allure of the final dish by incorporating some of his favorite flavors into the recipe.

With my thinking cap firmly in place, I concocted this mélange:

Oatmeal Breakfast Pilaf

For the oatmeal:
Sauté 1 cup of steel-cut oats with a little butter in a heavy saucepan until it smells toasty.
Add 3 cups of boiling water and a good pinch of salt.
Give a quick stir and lower the heat until it is barely bubbling.
Do not stir.
It should be done in 20 minutes or so. The oatmeal should not be too soft.

Sauté in a skillet an assortment of embellishments:

Onion, mushroom, sausage are shown here. But the possibilities are endless! Ham, chorizo, bacon, bell pepper, fresh herbs, leeks...the list goes on and on!

Finally, scoops of cooked oatmeal are added to the pan, stirred in and browned a bit. A little salt and pepper are added to taste.

I've made Oatmeal Breakfast Pilaf several times now and Mr. Sutter cleans his plate. At first, I was reluctant to divulge the key ingredient. When I finally did, he was receptive. He didn't spit it out and shout YOU LIAR! YOU CHEAT! HOW DARE YOU BETRAY ME!

So my work here with oatmeal is done. Problem solved. Husband eating oatmeal 3-4 days a week.

They say that cheaters never prosper, but perhaps, they have lower cholesterol.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Further Escapades with Oatmeal

Last weekend, my 14 year old daughter had a friend over. I spent most of the day cooking, but finally emerged from the kitchen and asked,

     Honey, would your friend like to stay for dinner tonight?
     Maybe...but first, she wants to know what you're making.

My daughter's friends know me well. I'm like a mad scientist in the lab brewing up exotic foodstuffs, testing recipes on the willing (or unaware) and sneaking in a bit of caramelized onion or a little gorgonzola into their powdery, processed, instant mac & cheese.

I pause for a moment to think about how I'm going to answer her tonight.

The fact is I'm making "Brotchan Foltchep", an ancient recipe for leek and oatmeal soup. But I know if I blurt out that name, it will strike fear and panic into their young hearts and my taste-testers will flee for the pantry in search of a can of Spaghetti O's.

     I'm just making some soup. And it's delicious. There is just some onions and butter and chicken broth in it. Nothing scary. I promise.

I served their "Brotchan Flotchep" (which means leek broth, but is also referred to as "the king's soup") in small, pretty, floral teacups to add to the innocence of this rather odd, though totally harmless, soup.

     Here it is. Just take a taste. One spoonful. You don't even have to finish it. Just try a 

And try they did. It was a heavenly soup. Soul renewing and heart warming. Big pieces of tender leeks, creamy, soft, delicate. And the girls loved it. They had seconds and thirds.

Finally, I came clean on the origins and ingredients of the concoction.

     "Brotchan Foltchep" was a favorite dish of one of Ireland's spiritual and literary icons, St Columbkille who lived in the 6th century. Columb means "dove" in Gaelic and kille means "church". There's oatmeal in it to add heartiness and thicken the soup a bit. According to "The Country Cooking of Ireland" by Coleman Andrews, this is possibly one of the oldest Irish recipe that we can actually reconstruct!"

And then, as I finished my food history lecture with a wave of my spoon, the girls smiled, nodded and dismissed me by slowly closing the door of her bedroom, leaving me to return to the kitchen glowing with success.

And as for Mr. Sutter, he finished his bowl of "Brotchan Foltchep" and declared it quite tasty. But he still doesn't know there was oatmeal in it  : )

Brotchan Foltchep

2 T. butter
6 leeks, washed, trimmed and sliced into 3/4" pieces 
5 cups of chicken stock and whole milk, mixed
1/2 cup pinhead (steel-cut) oatmeal
1/2 tsp. ground mace (or nutmeg)
salt and pepper to taste
half & half for garnish (optional)

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the leeks and sauté over gentle heat until softened slightly.

Add the stock and milk and bring to a boil. Sprinkle in the oatmeal.

Add the mace and season to taste.

Simmer for 20-30 minutes until the oatmeal is cooked and the flavors have melded.

Serve in bowls with a little cream swirled in, if desired, and who doesn't desire that?

(This recipe is a combination from both "Irish Food & Cooking" by Biddy White Lennon and Georgina Campbell and "The Country Cooking of Ireland" by Coleman Andrews)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Wonderful World of Oatmeal

If someone had told me that one of the chapters of my memoir would be "Oatmeal", I'd have told them to go pack porridge. But here I am testing recipes that revolve around oats.

I grew up eating oatmeal and other hot cereals a couple times a week. Over the years I have come to shun this humble breakfast food because of it's high CARB status, not to mention my husband hates the stuff.

But after considering the basic elements of traditional Irish fare...of which oatmeal is certainly a key player, I am left with little choice but to embrace it once again. Which leaves me to the issue of my husband.

Oatmeal is good for you honey.

I'd rather have water, that's good for me too.

It's great for high blood pressure, cholesterol and it's low glycemic!

I'm not eating it.

Oh come on, try a little spoonful. It's full of antioxidants.

No. I hate oatmeal. I'd rather eat anything but that.

Really? If you were starving and both the refrigerator and your wallet were empty...would you turn down this lovely bowl of hot oatmeal, laced with brown sugar, cinnamon and blueberries?

Yes. I'd eat the cat. Or some leaves. I hate oatmeal!

Oh, such drama over a wee bowl of cereal.

So now, my mission is to enrich recipes with oatmeal when no one is looking and happily force health and Irishness on my family whether they want it or not.

This recipe, found in Biddy White Lennon and Georgina Campbell's "Irish Food & Cooking", is titled Oatmeal Pancakes, but I have other ideas for them...

     1 cup fine whole-wheat flour
     1/4 cup fine pinhead (steel-cut) oatmeal
     pinch of salt
     2 eggs
     1 1/4 cups buttermilk (approximately)

Stir everything together, adding enough buttermilk to create a pancake batter consistency.

Ladle the batter into a very hot, greased skillet, griddle or cast iron pan.

Spread it about or tilt the pan to spread. 

Cook about 2 minutes, flip and cook for another minute or so.

I used them as a wrap filled with bacon, lettuce, tomato and a little mayo and dijon, which garnered a thumbs up from Mr. Sutter.

This is a nice Irish adaptation on the Oatmeal Pancake, but the melting-pot-American in me has further plans to use them for soft tacos, and maybe a quesadilla.

Healthy, delicious, and Tex-Mex-Irish.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Knock - knock...

Hellooooo....anyone out there?

Good heavens, it's been a while hasn't it?

After taking time to regroup from my trip to the motherland (UK), and squeezing out the experience from every brain cell to formulate the draft of my book AND eat a mess of turkey, it's time for me to venture back into the kitchen with you in tow.

Since spending so much time analyzing my culinary roots in Ireland and England, it has become near impossible for me to cook or eat without considering how each ingredient, recipe, technique and tool ended up in my 21st century suburban kitchen.

I have an overwhelming desire to identify and weed out much of the contemporary elements and reveal the traditional foodways of my kin.

Not so far back as the Paleolithic era mind you...just the 18th and 19th centuries.

A stroll down the grocery store aisles laden with their other-worldly products causes monkey wrenches to be thrown into the pot on my stove. There are far too many choices and flavors. Do we really need so many types of milk, the hundreds of varieties of colorful boxed cereals and the vast sea of canned soups?

Now, I really don't want to churn my own butter or behead and pluck a chicken. I just want to unscramble my cooking. Sift through history to find the recipes of bygone days and let meals be a little simpler.

So with that, I am going to put aside a moniker that I gave myself long ago when I pulled my first 1 inch high, 20 pound loaf of bread from the oven. It was on that day (there were a couple attempts actually) that I told myself,

"Kevi, you are NOT a bread baker."

But with the determination of an Irish warrior, I re-enter the bread-making arena and tackle the classic:

Brown Soda Bread

I'm using a recipe that I found in Colman Andrews classic The Country Cooking of Ireland. It's one that he adapted from Myrtle Allen of Ballymaloe House in County Cork.

It begins with a mix that every good Irish cook should have in her pantry: wheat flour, pastry flour and Irish steel-cut oats. A bit baking soda and salt are tossed in.

A well is created in the dry ingredients and buttermilk is added. A wooden spoon is specified for the blending (don't think for a minute that I was going to grab a silicone spoon because that could be the beginning of a bad loaf). 

The resulting dough could be formed into a classic flat round or pressed into a nonstick loaf pan. I went with the loaf.

And then, I held my breath as the soda bread baked and filled my kitchen with a wonderful aroma.

Then out it came, and it wasn't pretty...

...from any angle.

But once the brown soda bread was sliced and buttered, it was magnificent. Toasty, crunchy outside, rustic, chewy, nutty - it was fantastic!

My husband couldn't believe I made it! Neither could I!

But I did! I did it. I am a bread baker.

A new day has dawned at last and I am feeling my Irish roots unfurl.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Early this morning, while barely awake, I zested 16 lemons and my thumb. It hurt. But I didn't care. I bandaged it up and went on to finish my triple batch of lemon bars.
You just can't be sad when you're zesting lemons. I highly recommend zesting if you have the blues. Yellow and blue, a classic combination.
Of course, since I do my best thinking while cooking, other kitchen fragrances continued to wander through my mind as I juiced the lemons and creamed the butter and sugar.
There is something comforting and wondrous about certain food smells. I remember reading that the smell of pumpkin pie is more attractive to men then the finest perfume. My husband came home the other night after a hard day at work. I was baking chicken with lots of garlic, onions and herbs.
I watched his weary and stressful look pass from his face as he exclaimed, "I am really looking forward to dinner."
Then guess what? I totally overbaked the chicken. It was dry and not up to par, but he thought it was the best meal ever. I credit the fabulous aroma that he first encountered when he walked in the door.
Thought I'd share a bit of culinary insight today as I kick off the 5 Day Countdown to Goal for my Kickstarter Project.
Thank you thank you for the support thus far! Both from pledges and the "you go girl" emails.
If you haven't made your pledge, better get your debit card out and do it now. CLICK HERE
I wish you could smell these lemon bars baking.