Saturday, November 30, 2013


This is a once in 79,000 years event.  Chanukkah started the night before Thanksgiving.  Jews talk about holidays falling "early" or "late", but humans will have evolved into the next species by the time this happens again.

We didn't do a full feast for Chanukkah on Wednesday, just a fancier normal dinner.  This goes into my preference for only celebrating one holiday at a time.  I don't do anything Thanksgiving-like until the Halloween decorations come down, or put up winter decorations until after Thanksgiving.  Had to do the Chanukkah at the same time this year, but I don't have that much stuff.  Took all of five minutes.

Line pans with foil!
Techie Smurf lives in this magical world where kitchens and pots clean themselves.  While they went bird-watching, I scrubbed the counters and stove.  I like to have most of the cleaning done before the guests arrive, since it's only going to make it that much harder after they leave.  He had left burnt pomegranate molasses and sausage drippings all over the burners.  By the time they returned, the kitchen looked normal (clean) and ready for the next round of cooking.  We had already prepped the casseroles, the turkey was in the oven, and we had the whole afternoon to relax.

Roommate Smurf bought a Tofurkey feast.  Then she handed it to me to prepare because she can't cook.  I followed the instructions for the glaze she wanted, but it ended up tasting like soy sauce.  Not much you can do with a log of tofu.

And I finished NaNoWriMo with 60,053 words.  I hope I can find the interest to complete the book without a looming deadline.  They can be annoying, but they do help you to finish what you started.

Roast Leg of Lamb with Pomegranate Glaze
Steamed Broccoli
Potato Latkes with Applesauce

Pepitas for pre-meal snacking
Roast Turkey
Gravy (jar)
Cranberry Sauce
Green Bean Casserole
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallow topping
Bean and Sausage Cassoulet
White Rolls (brought by a guest)
Pumpkin Chiffon Pie
Pecan Pie and Dutch Apple Pie (brought by Roommate Smurf's dad)
Champagne (because, why not?)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pumpkin Waffles

I have five cups of pumpkin purée.  This was bound to happen.  There is actually a blog devoted to nothing but perfecting a recipe for pumpkin waffles.  Someone really likes them.

This recipe is more complex than most waffle recipes.  It involves a third bowl for whipping the egg whites.  You end up doing a lot more breakfast dishes than you want to, but the whole house smells like Thanksgiving for at least a day.

For topping, I recommend a good butter syrup and whipped cream.  Some toasted walnuts would be great on it.  You get just enough pumpkin flavor to be happy without it being overwhelming.

1/4 C brown sugar
*3 Tb cornstarch
1-1/4 C flour
*1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
*2 tsp cinnamon
*2 tsp ginger
*1/4 tsp cloves
*1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 eggs, separated
1 C milk
1 C pumpkin purée
1/4 C unsalted butter, melted

1.  In a medium bowl, combine brown sugar and cornstarch evenly.  Add flour, baking  powder, and all the spices.  Combine until uniform.

2.  Start whipping egg whites in stand mixer until firm peaks form.  While that's going on, combine pumpkin, milk, egg yolks, and butter.  When the butter cools, it's going to clump up slightly.

3.  Oil waffle iron and start preheating it.  I used a round Belgian Waffle maker.

4.  Stir together wet and dry ingredients.  A few lumps are okay, because you're going to be folding in the egg whites next.

5.  Fold egg whites into batter.  Combine until uniform.  Pour onto center of griddle until it covers the middle half.  Close iron and let cook until almost no steam comes from the waffle.  For extra crispy, leave on another minute.  Repeat.  I did not have to re-oil between waffles, but mine has a good teflon coat.  The original recipe says it makes four. I got 4-3/4, but I was being a bit stingy with the batter so it wouldn't run off the edge.

6.  Serve hot with toppings of choice.

Difficulty rating  :)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Autumn Fool

And I'm done!!!  Well, I've hit 50,000 words.  The story is far from over.  I'm guessing about 100,000 words.  And that's with cutting stuff.  What this means is that I can now devote time to cooking without feeling guilty.  Plus, my thumb is well enough that I can go without a bandage and cut acidic foods without pain.  And just in the nick of time!

This one was in the L.A. Times months ago.  I just needed the time and pumpkin to pull it off.  I subbed a few ingredients and did not make the graham crackers from scratch, as tempting as it sounded.  This version has fewer calories and takes about fifteen minutes to make.

I only had two of the cool Irish Coffee mugs, so I made the other two in old-style champagne goblets.  You don't get as many layers, but it looks elegant.  A champagne flute would also be acceptable.

Oh, I found out you can't whip previously frozen whipping cream.  Should have researched that one before putting it in the freezer.  You can still use it in recipes requiring whole cream, like sauces, soups, ganache, or ice cream.  It just won't whip.  I estimated how much whip out of the can would produce the desired effect.  My yield was a touch lower than it would have been, but not enough that a newbie would know the difference.

And they had Ding Dongs at the market!  I was disappointed when I opened my box and they are all individually wrapped... in plastic.  No tissue-thin foil wrapper.  Perhaps that's why they seem to taste a bit different.  Not bad, just different.

4 graham crackers, pulverized (about 1 cup)
3/4 C whipping cream
1/2 C (4 oz) cream cheese
1/4 C brown sugar
1/2 C pumpkin purée
1/2 tsp cinnamon

1.  Start beating the whipping cream in the stand mixer.  At soft peaks, add brown sugar and cream cheese.  Beat until firm peaks form.

2.  Stir cinnamon into pumpkin.  Fold the pumpkin purée into the whipped cream, and you now have your filling.

3.  To assemble, line bottom of four 8oz cups or jars with 1 Tb of graham cracker crumbs.  Fill a pastry bag or plastic zipper bag with filling and use a plain 1/2" tip (or small snip of the corner of the bag).  Pipe a 1/2" layer of filling over crumbs.  Add another layer of crumbs, then another layer of filling.  Continue as needed, ending with the crumbs on top.  Chill for at least an hour, then decorate with a dollop of whipped cream before serving.

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, November 18, 2013

Roast Pumpkin Purée

40,000 words.  I'm almost there!  I've really missed cooking.  Elaborate dishes (blogged or not) and computer games are what I had to give up to find time for NaNo.  It took me a long time to get from 30k to 40k because I cut my thumb badly at work and had to go to the ER to get it patched up.  No stitches, but it hurt a lot and wouldn't stop bleeding without strong pressure for nearly two hours.  Fortunately, I almost never use my left thumb while typing, so I was back at it once the pain became bearable.

I kind of forgot to carve my pumpkin for Halloween.  It sat by the fireplace until I had time to work with it.  I decided it could roast while I sat in the kitchen doing some writing.  (This was before the thumb thing.)

The only ingredient in this is a pumpkin, so I'm going to skip straight to the procedure.

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Line a rimmed cookie sheet with foil to make cleaning easier.
Before and After

2.  Cut open pumpkin and remove stem.  Remove seeds and scrape cavity clean.  You can wash the seeds and make pepitas while the pumpkin is cooking.

3.  Place pumpkin cut-sides down on cookie sheet and roast in oven until fork-tender, about an hour.  Let rest until cool enough to handle with your fingers.

4.  Remove skin by peeling it off with your hands.  If your pumpkin is fully cooked, it will slide right off.  You can simply cut up the roasted pumpkin at this point and use it, or keep going with the purée.  Place pulp in the food processor and pulse until smooth.  Use in recipes as needed.

5.  To store:  It keeps in the fridge for about a week.  For longer, freeze in small batches in jars or plastic baggies.  Do not try to can it.  Even a pressure canner is iffy.  When you defrost it, you'll probably have to leave it in a sieve for an hour or so, as some of the water will have separated out of it.

I got 5 cups out of my pumpkin.  Yield depends on size.

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Brown Rice with Mushrooms

30,000 words.  And I've already decided what I'm going to write next year.  I know, finish this one first.

It is November, and writing project or not, I can't ignore possible Thanksgiving dishes.  This one isn't imaginative, which is kind of the point.  If you're going to introduce something new to the feast table, it has to look a lot like something you had on it last year.

1 C dry brown rice
*2 stalks green onion, thinly sliced
*3 Tb minced garlic (I used roasted)
1 5oz package sliced white mushrooms
1 Tb butter

1.  Preheat oven to 325º.  In a medium skillet, melt butter.  Cook onions, garlic, and mushrooms until mushrooms are mostly cooked, but not completely limp.  Start boiling 1-1/2 C water.

2.  Place dry rice in an oven-safe casserole.  Top with mushroom mixture.  Pour boiling water over all of it and cover without stirring.  Bake until water is absorbed, about 50 minutes.  Stir to distribute mushrooms and serve.  (Or you could not stir it and serve with the two-layer thing going on.)

serves 4-6

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Postseason Wrap-Up

20,000 words.  Almost halfway there.  I fixed a big problematic section yesterday, which felt great.  I hated to quit for the night, but I was baking this morning at 3am.

Last Wednesday, I ripped out the broccoli and Brussels sprouts.  They were both heavily infested, and the sprouts never sprouted anything bigger than a gumball.  On the other hand, I can now get to the backside of the tomato plant much easier.  It doesn't seem to realize that it's November.  I'm still getting strong shoots, blossoms, and tomatoes.  They're less frequent and smaller, but they are happening still.
The onions are healthy, and I really do need to use some before they aren't so healthy.  I also pulled the dead asparagus crown.  I'll leave in the one that's hanging on and see what happens next year.

So, here's the rundown on the 2013 gardening season.

  • Coffee grounds as mulch seemed to have worked.  I used plant food a few times, but mostly kept dumping coffee leftovers on the plants.
  • Pesticides are a necessary evil.  While I'm not fond of chemicals, they kept the plants alive.
  • Read the instructions on your plants before buying.  Artichoke and asparagus are not easy to wait for when you're expecting fast results.  Plant herbs and lettuce if you want to start harvesting in a few weeks, not years.
  • I finally turned a profit.  It was primarily in cherry tomatoes, which run $2 a pound.  I'm going to guess I've picked close to five pounds over the past five months.  A pound a month doesn't sound like a lot, but it paid for the underperforming Brussels and Gus twins.  I'm going to call the onions a break-even and the broccoli a slight profit.  This doesn't take into account the many pounds of dirt I had to buy to fill in the pond.  I'm going to "pay" for that one in artichokes and lemons, since they were paid for in previous years.
We'll see how long the tomato plant lasts before I start planning for next year.  Imagine, I don't even have to buy temporary filler plants yet!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Corn-Crab Chowder

This is my reward to myself for hitting 10,000 words.  Yes, more writing becomes my treat.  I haven't been doing much cooking anyway.  When I first signed up for NaNo, I wasn't getting enough hours at work.  That doesn't seem to be a problem anymore.  Lucky me.

I'm in the middle of another really painful crown.  I'm surprised I still have anything left on my dental insurance.  Looking for something soft to chew, I remembered this idea and then threw a bunch of other stuff into it.  This soup is almost as thick as a stew, but it covers all the nutritional bases.

1/2 C dry black beans or one 1 lb can, drained and rinsed
1 C diced onion
2 Tb minced garlic, roasted if you have it
2 Tb butter
2 carrots, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 C frozen corn kernels
12 oz crab flakes, real or imitation
1 medium russet potato, cut into bite-sized chunks
1/4 C flour
2 C milk
1 C white wine
salt and pepper to taste

1.  If starting with dry beans, soak 4-6 hours.  Drain and rinse.  Refill saucepan and bring to a boil.  Simmer beans for 2 hours, drain and rinse again.  Set aside until ready to use.

2.  In a medium saucepan, bring potatoes, corn, and carrot to a boil in lightly salted water.  Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

3.  While vegetables are simmering, melt butter in a soup pot.  Add onions and any raw garlic and cook until soft and translucent.  If using roasted, add after onions are cooked.  Add flour and cook until absorbed by the butter.

4.  Add 1 C milk to soup pot and stir to combine.  Over medium heat, cook until thickened.  Add wine and cook again until thickened.  Add other cup of milk and cook until thickened.  Add beans and vegetables and combine.  Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.  If too thick, add more milk.  Serve hot.

Serves 6

Difficulty rating :)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Roasted Garlic

This is the best thing I've had in ages.  I also wrote this post in October and post-dated it.

How did I forget about roasting garlic?  It's so easy, and imparts massive flavor to anything.  Cooking the bulb caramelizes it and mellows the flavor.  You get all the garlic flavor without bad breath.  I mashed it and sprinkled it over pasta with just some olive oil.  You could toss it in salads, mash it in with potatoes, or use it as a condiment on steak.  The possibilities are endless, including putting it on buttered toast as an appetizer.

The site I got the method from had you peeling the head and cutting off the tops of the garlic cloves, which is harder than it sounds without a really sharp knife.  After doing all of that, I remembered that the really easy way to make this is to cut off the root end, but I didn't feel like going back to the store for more garlic, so don't go entirely by the photo.

Garlic heads
olive oil

1.  Preheat oven to 400º.  With the skins on the head, slice off the root end of the garlic to expose the cloves.  Lightly brush off any loose skins, but don't go deep enough that the cloves separate.

2.  Drizzle a small amount of olive oil onto your hand and rub it into the exposed surfaces of the garlic. It's ok if it gets on the outer skin, too.

3.  Wrap the head tightly in foil so it can self-steam as it cooks.  Place directly on the oven rack if the head is large enough, or place smaller ones in a muffin tin first.  Cook for at least 30 minutes, and as much as 45, until head is squishy.  Remove from oven and let rest several minutes until cool enough to handle.

4.  Here's the fun part.  Open the packages.  Over a bowl, turn the head cut-side down and hold onto the pointy end.  Squeeze down and watch the cloves pop out of their skins.  Make sure you get all of them, then discard the skin.  Use the cloves whole, diced, or mashed.

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, November 1, 2013

NaNo 2013

That book I was going to rewrite last year?  It got derailed when my computer died in January.  Still haven't gotten past page 10.  So much for 50,000 words, National Novel Writing Month's goal.

So I got an external hard drive and a new word processing program.  Write 2 is only slightly more advanced than a spiral notebook, which is what I want in a word processing program.  I write a lot of sci-fi and fantasy, which is hell on auto-correct.  Low-tech is exactly what I need.

I have no illusions that I will complete the rewrite this month, but signing up on the NaNo site makes me more accountable than just the honor system.  I don't think I can average 1,667 words a day, even though my hours at work have been cut a bit.  Techie Smurf and his family are visiting for an entire week at Thanksgiving, so I whatever I have the day they arrive is pretty much it.  If I can get through the first section of the book, which was 67 pages in the original formatting, I will be very happy.

Don't be surprised if there are long gaps between posts this month.  I'm not going to have the time to cook, much less research, photograph, and write about it.  If I have the urge to post here, it's because I've made something super-yummy that I absolutely have to share.  You won't have to read about whatever I had for dinner unless it's the best thing I've eaten in ages.