Sunday, November 29, 2015

Food Coma

Once you've recovered from your Thanksgiving food coma, it's time for getting creative with the leftovers.

I'll begin by defining for you what Italians mean by a "heavy fork".

A heavy fork is a person who likes to eat a lot of food.  I'm not talking about every day, all the time.  I'm talking about sitting down, hungry, like for Sunday dinner.  A heavy fork doesn't do well in one of those restaurants where they charge you two months of lunch for a steak the size of your palm with a curly leaf on top and stuff squiggled on the plate underneath.  Heavy forks like old style restaurants where they fill your plate.  Bonus points if the menu is written on a chalkboard and/or they don't accept credit cards.

So a heavy fork is not necessarily a fat person.  Many are quite thin.  They can exist for weeks on salads and sardines and buttered toast.  Maybe a little zuppa.  My husband, Anthony, is one of these people.  Some people think that I am, too, but they don't know the size of my hips because I'm really good at hiding them.

I'm saying all this because today I'm doing something with leftover turkey.  Turkey tetrazzini.  And to understand the recipe, you also need to understand the following:
  1. We are heavy forks;
  2. Turkey tetrazzini tastes really, really good;
  3. When something tastes good we want to eat lots of it.
This recipe, like many of mine, comes from The Joy of Cooking.  Sort of.  The problem with recipes from The Joy of Cooking is that the authors are neither Italian nor (apparently) heavy forks.  Their recipes are generally for 4 to 6 Puritans, which will generally satisfy 2 Italians.  Maybe.  So, most of the time, I have to translate.  The beautiful thing is that it works.

Turkey tetrazzini is maybe the best thing you can do with your leftover turkey.  Because it is made with a lot of cream sauce, it's the perfect thing to make with dried-out white meat.  This is an easy recipe, but not fast, so allow yourself some time.  Take the opportunity to finish off any leftover wine from the holiday.

Turkey Tetrazzini
Wash and slice a big package of mushrooms.  I wash my mushrooms.  Some people don't.  If you don't wash your mushrooms, please don't tell me about it.  Saute the mushrooms in olive oil and a little butter.  Cook a pound of pasta.  I like "little" pasta for the tetrazzini because then you can serve it with a big spoon and it doesn't slide all over the place, but a lot of people use angel hair.  Today I used "mini-farfalle" (little butterflies).  Just as cute as it sounds.

While you're waiting for the pasta water to boil, make the sauce.  (It takes a little time, sorry.  Start on the wine.)  To make the sauce, melt a stick of butter in a deep pot.  Add 8 tablespoons of flour.  Cook and stir, over medium heat, until smooth and bubble.  Gradually add 4 cups of chicken broth (canned is fine, or bouillon), stirring constantly and bringing to a boil after each addition.  It will start to get thick.  After you finish adding the chicken broth, salt and pepper to taste.  Add two cups of heated cream or half-and-half.  Bring to a simmer.

Drain the pasta and add the mushrooms to it.  Cut up some leftover turkey into small pieces and add it to the pasta and mushrooms.  Pour the hot sauce over everything and mix well.

Now, pour the whole thing into a large, buttered baking dish.  Sprinkle with parmigiano or romano cheese, or whatever you got.  Bake in a 375 degree oven until the cheese starts to brown.

Buon appetito.

And don't worry about the calories.  You won't be eating many more of them until Christmas Eve.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Cooking for a Holiday - Thanksgiving, Part XI - Connie Staccato Stuffs a Turkey

The secret to stuffing a turkey is - ha! - you don't.  Listen to me, I know of which I speak.  Stuffing a turkey is a PAIN IN THE ASS.  On many levels.  To begin with, you have to stuff the thing, no big deal in and of itself, but there are rules:
  1. You have to put the turkey in the oven immediately after stuffing it;
  2. You have to unstuff it before you eat, but not too long before you eat;
  3. You have to hop up from the table right after the last spoonful of cranberry sauce passes your lips to put it all away...
...before the nasty bird microbes start to interact with the nasty egg microbes in the stuffing, because that's going to kill you at room temperature.

I like to keep things simple, so I avoid the little bastards altogether and bake my stuffing "on-the-side", as we say.  It gets nice and brown and crunchy on top.  If you're rabid about it, you can baste it - before baking - with some of the turkey juice.
I recommend baking the stuffing in those little foil cake pans, the kind that come 3-to-a-package at the grocery store.  That way, you can eat a few pans at Thanksgiving dinner and freeze the rest, in dinner-size portions, and have ready-to-go side dishes.  If you're looking to avoid Seasonal Blimpdom, you can send any uneaten pans of stuffing home with your guests, no repackaging required.  For the record, I am in NO WAY above serving the stuffing in those foil pans, because - in my opinion - it's all about the food.  Not that I don't appreciate the sight of a lovely table but, once you start eating, who the hell cares?  If you do, lie to me.

This recipe is from my Sicilian-American grandmother who - in a show of patriotism - always allowed space for a turkey and trimmings alongside the lasagna at Thanksgiving.  I have modified it in two ways:
  1. I have cut the recipe down by two-thirds, size-wise.  Triple it if you're feeding three rooms full of an extended Sicilian family.  You know, the inner-circle table and the outer circle table and the kids' table.  Geographically arranged to allow for maximum yelling;
  2. I leave out the sage at the request of my husband.  This a Sicilian woman always does:  she cooks according to the tastes of her husband, even if he wouldn't know a sage leaf if it jumped up and bit him on the ass.  She understands why he married her.  Digressions from this tradition are few and far between, even to accommodate small children.  Let me illustrate one of the main differences between the Sicilian-American Table and the Very White American People's Table.  Very White American People cook some God-forsaken pap that they think their kid will like, or they get all tough-love about it and serve the food that Mommy and Daddy like and make the kid sit there until he eats it.  Or at least tries it.  A Sicilian woman does not do this.  She cooks what her husband likes, and the kids can eat bread and butter, whatever.  Which they love.  They grow up at least knowing what good food looks and smells like.  And they learn to like lentils.
Feel free to add sage, without fear of repercussion.  Or oysters, or cranberries, or quail beaks.  Whatever floats your boat.  Just remember that if you do, I'm not responsible for the results.  But the following recipe will stand up to just about anything.

The ingredients:

3 large loaves of cheap white bread, cut into 1-inch (or so) cubes
4 cups of celery, chopped and cooked in butter
4 cups of onions, diced and cooked in butter
1/2 cup of fresh Italian parsley (the flat-leaf kind, it's better), chopped fine
3 sticks of butter, melted
3 eggs
1 Tbl salt
1 Tbl fresh ground pepper

The recipe:
  1. Prep your bread.  After cutting it into cubes, you can do this in one of two ways: either toast them slightly in the oven, or leave them out somewhere safe for a day or two to get a little stale.  I like the second method because I have no time or patience for anything.
  2. The day before Thanksgiving, saute the celery and onions in butter, and store (covered) in the refrigerator overnight.  WHATEVER you do, NEVER put raw chopped onions in the fridge, which will make your milk - and everything else - smell like a Chicago hot dog.
  3. On Thanksgiving, put the stale bread in the biggest pot you have.  Run some cold water over it, until bread is thoroughly damp, and press it down hard with your hands.  Add more water, if necessary, and keep pressing until your bread is about the consistency of paste..  It's a good idea to take your rings off before you do this.  Make sure you POUR OFF any excess water!!! (Author's note:  This section has been modified, on account of my son, Nino, tried to make stuffing, added WAY too much water, and - of course - he blamed me.)
  4. Right there in the pot, add all the other ingredients to the bread.  Mix well with a big spoon.  This takes some muscle.  When you're done, you'll have worked off your first piece of pie;
  5. With the same big spoon, put the stuffing into the cake pans.  You should get four to six of them;
  6. Cover the pans with foil and put them in the fridge until they're ready to be baked;
  7. An hour before the turkey is done, uncover the stuffing and bake (until browned) as many pans as will fit in the oven with the bird.  You can bake more pans, if necessary, while you're eating.

As far as the (unstuffed) turkey goes, just put it in a big foil roasting pan into a 325 degree oven and roast it until it's done, basting it once in a while and reserving any extra juice for the gravy.  For a big, fresh turkey that should be about four hours, but ask the guy at the meat counter.  If you want to take the guesswork totally out of it, stick a meat thermometer into the thigh and the turkey's done when the thermometer says 180 degrees.  The science know-it-alls say we don't even have to wash a turkey any more.  Okay by me.  You also might want to check for - and remove - any feathers, and don't forget to take out the neck and gizzards first, but I'm not talking to a stoonahd, right?

Assuming that you've been following me closely and doing everything I've told you to do, here are the only things you have left to do, while the turkey is roasting:
  1. Make the mashed potatoes.
  2. Make the succotash.
  3. Make the gravy.
  4. Bake the sweet potatoes.
  5. Whip the cream for the pies.
And here are the recipes:

Mashed Potatoes
Peel and wash 8 to 10 baking potatoes.  Cut into quarters and put them in a big pot of water.  Boil until soft.  Drain and smash them up a bit.  Add a cup of hot milk, a half-a-stick of butter, and a tablespoon of salt.  Beat with an electric beater until fluffy.  This is all you have to do, because - honestly - it's really all about the gravy.

Bring a half-cup of salted water to a boil in a big pot.  Put in a package (each) of frozen corn kernels and baby lima beans.  Bring to a boil again and cover.  Turn the heat down and let cook about 10 minutes.  Add a quarter-stick of butter, a half-cup of chopped parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.  Stir it up.  You have realized by now that this meal is about 50% butter, right?  That's why it tastes good.

Melt a stick of butter in a saucepan.  Add 8 tablespoons of flour and cook over low heat until smooth.  Gradually add 4 cups of turkey juice (reserved from basting, or a mix of turkey juice and water to make four cups) to the flour mix, cooking and stirring constantly.  Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer.  Cook a few more minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.  If your family and guests are gravy hogs, either double the recipe, or have some packages of instant gravy mix on hand.  They won't care.
I would be remiss in my duties as a Sicilian-American kitchen capo di tutti capi if I didn't tell you what to do after dinner is over, which is usually signalled by your male diners turning on the second half of the football game.  Designate any food still on the table as "doggy bag" or "leftover" and package accordingly.  Stack the dishes in the sink.  But first, take a tall-size plastic garbage bag, put the turkey in it (roasting pan and all), secure tightly, and stick it on the bottom shelf of your fridge.  Remove any drawers that get in your way.

After all, it's your holiday, too.  And that bird isn't going anywhere.

Now relax and have some pie and coffee.

After the game, of course.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Cooking for a Holiday - Thanksgiving, Part X - The Night Before

I've already had a martini, and the pizza is on the way.

Whatever.  It's holiday time!  Holidays begin on the "eve" and end with the leftovers.  Hence, the martini. 

I'm close, but not in the home stretch yet.  Two things are happening tonight (after pizza):  vegetable prep for the stuffing and sweet potatoes.

For the vegetables, you need a bunch of celery.  Trim, wash, and chop.  Fry them in a half-a-stick of butter until a little soft.  Transfer to a big bowl.  Then take two gigantic onions.  Peel, wash, and chop.  Fry them in another half-a-stick of butter until soft and a little brown.  Put them in the big bowl with the celery.  Mix them up, let cool a little, and then put it all in a Tupperware container.  Store in the fridge until tomorrow, when the mixture will become un buon'amico with the bread you've got chopped up for stuffing.

For the sweet potatoes:  Peel 3 big sweet potatoes.  Slice into thin slices.  (You can buy them already peeled and sliced now, which means civilization is still making progress.)  Butter a 9" X 13" baking pan or spray it with some "no-stick" stuff.  Now put a layer of sweet potato slices in the pan and sprinkle with lemon juice, brown sugar, salt, and paprika.  Dot with butter.  Repeat until pan is full and/or you run out of sweet potatoes.  I usually get four layers out of it.  Cover pan with foil and put in the refrigerator.  You'll bake them tomorrow, still covered with foil, at 350 degrees, for about 45 minutes to an hour.  After the sweet potatoes are baked, pull them out of the oven and cover them with marshmallows, which my kids insist upon.  Then put them back in the oven and bake, uncovered, until the marshmallows are bubbly and browned.

That's it!  Go get your beauty sleep.

The moment of glory is at hand.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Cooking for a Holiday - Thanksgiving, Part IX - Two Days Before

Today I bake pies, which makes me feel like the queen of the whole wide world.  Once a year, when those babies are cooling on the kitchen table, my husband, Anthony suddenly remembers why he married me. 

And the best part of it all is that - since the pie crust shells are ready to go - it's so easy.  Most of the time I'll be playing Spider Solitaire, knocking back a well-earned limoncello.

Every year I do the exact same two pies:  pecan and pumpkin.  In fact, every year I do the exact same meal, which is why I've got this down.  My Thanksgiving dinner is pretty much perfect, so why would I mess with that?  I'm not saying it's healthy.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter I don't cook "healthy".  That's why they call them "holidays".

I start with the pecan pie and then do pumpkin because of the temperature of the oven.  The pecan bakes at 375 degrees.  The pumpkin starts at 425 and then goes down to 350.  Do the math.

These recipes look a little more like real recipes than I usually write, because baking is science.  Cooking is an art, and you can play around with it to suit your tastes, but not baking.  Baking is chemistry you eat.

I think I got the pecan pie recipe from the back of a package of pecans.  It looked weird and, in my experience, recipes that look weird are usually great.  This pie is creamy, like the inside of a Caramello Bar, and it's a freaking masterpiece.

Pecan Pie
1 1/2 cups of corn syrup
1/2 cup of sugar
1/4 cup (half a stick) of butter
1 cup of chopped pecans
3 slightly beaten eggs
1 tsp of vanilla
Dash of salt
Pie crust shell

Put the corn syrup, sugar, and butter in a saucepan and bring it to a boil on top of the stove.  Turn down the heat and boil gently for 5 minutes, stirring once in a while.  Take it off the heat and let the syrup mixture cool down a bit, maybe 45 minutes.  It will form a skin on top, but don't worry.  Just stir it until the skin melts.  Put the chopped pecans into the pie shell.  In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, vanilla, and salt.  When the syrup is cool enough (so it doesn't start cooking the eggs), pour it slowly into the egg mixture and beat well.  Pour all of this over the pecans.  Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30-35 minutes.  Or until the center isn't real soupy when you jiggle it.  Sometimes that takes up to 45 minutes, so use your judgement.  But don't overbake.  It'll settle down some when it cools off.

During that 35 minutes, you can get your pumpkin pie ready.  This recipe is pretty much straight out of The Joy of Cooking, and if they ever want a cut of my royalties it will be worth every penny.

Pumpkin Pie
2 cups of cooked, pureed pumpkin
1 1/2 cups of whipping cream
1/4 cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup of white sugar
1/2 tsp of salt
1 tsp of cinnamon
1/2 tsp of ginger 
1/4 tsp of nutmeg
1/8 tsp of ground cloves
2 slightly beaten eggs
Pie crust shell

Mix all the ingredients together (except, obviously, the pie crust) until well blended.  Pour into the pie shell.  Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.  Then lower the temperature of the oven to 350 degrees and bake for another 45 minutes to an hour.  Once again, check the "soupy" factor when you jiggle the pie and use your judgement.  Don't let the crust burn.

Serve both pies with the whipped cream that you're going to whip tomorrow after dinner.  Better yet, have your kids (if applicable) whip the cream, since it is an easy, but boring, job and can take up to a half hour.  Or more, depending on your karma.  This is a good reason to have kids, if you can't think of any other ones.  Here's the recipe, in case you're feeling inspired tonight.

Whipped Cream
Pour four small, or two large, containers of heavy whipping cream into a big bowl.  Whip with an electric beater, on a low/medium speed.  It will spritz, and there's nothing you can do to stop it, so wear an apron.  When the cream can stand up by itself in peaks, fold in a teaspoon of vanilla and 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar with a rubber scraper.  Try not to eat it right out of the bowl.

Now, how easy was that?  

Is your husband (if applicable) smiling?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Cooking for a Holiday - Thanksgiving, Part VIII - Three Days Before

Today I'm going to do one thing.  I'm going to roll out the pie crusts with the dough I made about a week and a half ago.

First thing this morning, I took the dough out of the fridge, where it's been waiting.  It should be at, or near, room temperature.  This takes about an hour or two.

The next thing I did was pull out the two new 9-inch deep dish pie plates I bought last year at Mariano's for $10 each, which was a quarter of the price that I saw them going for at the fancy kitchen store.  Pretty much the same dish, so why so cheap?  I'll tell you why.  Because I just spent a half an hour peeling off all the labels and price tags which were stuck on there like they wanted them to survive a zombie apocalypse.  Can someone please explain to me why companies do this?  It's like, why do they put scratchy tags on the back of the neck of a shirt?  And why are there seams on socks?  Right at the toe?  

Never mind, I just figured out it was water-soluble.  Too late for my nails, though.

Now, for those of you who hyperventilate at the thought of rolling out a pie crust, relax.  I've got some secrets:  

Secret #1:  I never put a crust on top of my pies.  I don't have the patience.  Fortunately, I make pumpkin and pecan pies for Thanksgiving, and neither of them need a crust on top.  So the only visible part of my pie crust is the rim and that's easy.  Seriously, NOBODY is going to see the mistakes, only taste the deliciousness.

Secret #2:  The King Arthur All-Butter Pie Crust.  If you made this, per my recommendation (you should listen to me), rolling out the dough is the easiest thing you're ever gonna do in your life.

You need a rolling pin.  If you don't have a rolling pin, you can use a wine bottle.  If you don't have a wine bottle, we're not friends.  Stop reading this and go away.

I roll out my dough on a big cutting board.  Put some flour on the board and rub some flour on the rolling pin.  Put the disk of dough on the board.  Now, working in one direction, from the center of the disk outward, go around the disk forming it into a big circle of dough.  It has to be about four inches across bigger than your pie pan, so about 13 inches across.  Gently wrap the circle of dough around your rolling pin and carefully unfold it on top of the pan.  Put some flour on your fingers and push it down and against the sides and rim.

Dip a fork into flour and press the dough down around the rim.  Keep dipping as necessary.  It should look pretty, and this helps to keep the dough from shrinking down into the pan when the pie is baking.  

Now take a sharp knife and trim off any excess dough.  Wrap the pie pans in Saran wrap and put them in the fridge.

Ecco!  That's it.  Aren't they things of beauty?  Could Martha Stewart do better?  Well, yeah, maybe.  But I could crochet a better poncho.

Tomorrow we bake!


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Cooking for a Holiday - Thanksgiving, Part VII - Four Days Before

Roll up your sleeves.

Today, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, begins the real work.  I'm going to make the cranberry sauce, and while that's cooking, I'm going to chop up the bread for the turkey stuffing. 

I finished shopping for ingredients, including the cranberries and the bread, on Friday and good thing I did.  Because yesterday, in addition to FINALLY getting the freaking stitches removed from my (first) oral surgery, we got hit by the biggest November snowstorm in 120 years.  So it would have been a bad day for shopping, but that didn't stop me from going to the store on my way back from the periodontist's to pick up a bottle of whiskey.  (Don't judge, unless you've ever had half your mouth stitched up for two weeks.)  Unfortunately for my capodost of a husband, Anthony, my mouth was then free to yell at him for not buying a new snowblower this year.  Right on time.  

But now I am ready.  In theory, I shouldn't have to leave the house until December 1st.  At the earliest.  Which is fine by me.  Everything's at my fingertips.  Including the whiskey.  

Cranberry Sauce
Put 2 1/2 cups of sugar and 3 cups of water in a big pot.  Cook and stir the sugar water over medium high heat until it goes from white-and-cloudy to clear.  Then bring it to a boil.  Turn down the heat a little and let it simmer for 10 minutes.  Rinse 3 bags of fresh cranberries (remove the really deformed ones and any sticks/twigs/spiders you might find) and put them in the pot with the water.  Bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer again.  Cook the cranberries for about an hour, uncovered, which is about five times longer than any other recipe will tell you.  Stir now and then.  The sauce thickens up, but don't wait for it to turn into jelly, like the canned stuff, because it won't.  Now, turn off the heat and stir in a big bag of frozen raspberries, the ones without sugar.  Ladle the sauce into some plastic containers, let cool, cover the containers, and put them in the fridge until Thanksgiving.  Done.

While the cranberry sauce is cooking, you can chop up your stuffing bread.  I chop up 3 big loaves of cheap white bread, into 1-inch cubes.  More or less.  Depends on my mood.

I'm going to lay out two options on how to do the bread:

Option #1:  You can cut it up into little squares and toast it.  In baking pans.  Then tie it up in plastic bags and set it aside until Thanksgiving morning.  I never do this.  It's boring.  And just one more thing to go wrong.

Option #2:  This is what I do.  I get two big brown grocery bags.  I put my cut-up bread into one of them and put the other bag over the top of the first one.  Like a condom.  Then, once or twice a day I go into the bag and toss the bread around a bit with my hands.  The paper bags let the bread get nice and stale by Thanksgiving morning, without going moldy.

Your choice.  And just so you know, Anthony has brought it to my attention that people who live in the American Midwest (which includes us) have taken to chopping up White Castle sliders and using them (instead of bread) for their turkey stuffing.  Personally, I never heard of this, but I confess that, after an initial wave of revulsion, it occurred to me that it would taste good.

One more thing.  If you cooked and froze your pumpkin in 2-cup containers, take one of them down and put it in the fridge.  Pie-baking is Tuesday.  It should be defrosted by then.

Me, too, I hope.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Cooking for a Holiday - Thanksgiving, Part VI - The Schedule

At this point, the pumpkin is cooked, pureed, and waiting in the freezer for its moment of glory.  Half the shopping has been done.  The pie crust is in the fridge.  The turkey is on order.  And starting next Saturday, the pace picks up, and that means we need a schedule.  Seriously, write it down on your calendar.  It'll give you a sense of control.

The schedule:

Saturday before Thanksgiving:  Shop for perishable ingredients i.e., everything else on the shopping list that you haven't already bought.
Sunday before Thanksgiving:  Make cranberry sauce.  Chop up the bread for the stuffing.  Take a container of pumpkin out of the freezer and put it in the fridge to defrost.
Monday before Thanksgiving:  Roll out pie crusts and line pie pans. 
Tuesday before Thanksgiving:  Bake pies.
Thanksgiving Eve:  Pick up turkey from the butcher.  Prepare sweet potatoes.  Prepare vegetables for stuffing.
Don't worry, I'll tell you how to do all this stuff.  Now, if you do it all according to the schedule, here's what you have left to do on Thanksgiving Day:

Put bird in oven.
Assemble and bake stuffing.
Make mashed potatoes.
Make succotash.
Make gravy.
Bake sweet potatoes.
Whip cream (after dinner, while enjoying a nice Sambuca) for pies.
Make coffee.

This sounds like a lot, but it's not, because you've prepared everything ahead of time and you're (mostly) just assembling the ingredients and throwing stuff in the oven.  The succotash isn't much harder than cooking frozen vegetables, gravy is fast and brain-dead easy, my kids can whip the cream, and my husband, Anthony, can peel potatoes and put them in a pot of water before the football games start.  Yeah, there's a few things to do, but overall you should be on cruise-control.  I don't even have a lot of clean up at the end of the day, because I bake everything in aluminum foil baking pans which go right from the table into the fridge after dinner.  I don't give a damn about how my "table" looks.  If you're looking at my dishes instead of my food, you're missing the point and I'm going to guess that happens to you a lot.

Anthony does the dishes (at halftime), since he won't buy me a dishwasher.  Well, he would, if I really pressed the point, but he would view it as moral weakness.  I kid you not.  If we ever meet up for a drink, I'll tell you the story about the electric can opener.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Cooking for a Holiday - Thanksgiving, Part V - Two Weeks Before

Okay, let's do a recap.

Thanksgiving is 13 days away.  So far, I've got:
  1. the menu planned;
  2. the non-perishables bought;
  3. the pumpkin cooked; and
  4. the turkey ordered.
And today I'm making pie crust.  Not rolling it out, just making the dough.  It's easy.  I promise.  Why would I lie? 

Apologies in advance:  I should have told you to buy a pastry cutter, but I didn't.  If you don't know what a pastry cutter is, forget about it, it's not strictly necessary.  You can get the same result using two butter knives and - literally - cut the butter into the flour.  And just to show you what kind of person I am, I'm going to use the butter knives, too, in solidarity.  Pastry cutters are a pain in the ass to clean, anyway, and slicing stuff up with knives is always a good time.

I used to use the all-purpose pie crust recipe from the Joy of Cooking.  Then, last year, I stumbled on the freaking HOLY GRAIL of pie crusts:  the King Arthur Flour All-Butter Pie Crust recipe, and damn! I am never going back.

You could just Google this recipe, but I'll give it to you here, too.  It looks a little weird - 16 tablespoons of butter??? - but trust me.  It rolls out like a dream and tastes like heaven.  I consider finding this recipe (thank you, St. Anthony!) one of the high points of my life.  Which tells you something about my life.

Here are the ingredients:

2 1/2 cups of unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tsp of salt
16 Tbl of cold butter (real butter, please)
1/4 to 1/2 cup of ice water 

(Notice that most of these ingredients are cold.  It makes for a flakier crust.)

Now here's what you do:

Put the flour in a big bowl.  Stir in the salt.  Cut the butter into little pieces, and put it in the flour.  Work the butter into the flour (using a pastry cutter, two butter knives, your fingers, whatever) until it's all crumbly.

When you've got a bowl full of crumbly butter and flour, sprinkle the water all over it.  Start with the 1/4 cup and use more if you need to.  Then take your rings off and start playing with the dough until you can make one large dough ball.  Knead it a few times.  (If it doesn't come together right away, add a little more water and keep smooshing.  You'll get there.)  But as soon as you get your ball, stop kneading the dough and form it into a disk.  That way, you're halfway there when you roll it out for the pie.  Wrap the disk up real good in plastic wrap or something, put it into a plastic container with a tight seal, and put it in the fridge.  It'll be fine in there for about two weeks or until you're ready to bake your pies, whichever comes first (you can freeze it, too, no worries).  When you're ready to use the dough, take it out of the fridge and let it warm up at room temperature until it behaves.

I make a double recipe because I make two pies.  Two 9-inch, deep dish pies.  Don't made dinky pies.  They're not impressive.

That's it for today.  I got other things to do.  Like have a glass of wine, which I richly deserve, because I am a righteous, Thanksgiving-dinner-cooking sister.

I told you this would be easy.


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Cooking for a Holiday - Thanksgiving, Part IV - Go!

It's time to go shopping.

Actually it's always time to go shopping.  And thank God for thrift shops because if they didn't exist I'd be living in a cardboard box by now. 

This is guilt-free shopping, though.  It's everything you're going to need to cook your (my) Thanksgiving dinner.  I save my list on the computer and just print it out every year.  I was going to divide it into two parts for you, perishables and non-perishables, but I'm just going to assume that you're smart enough to figure that out on your own.

If you're not smart enough to know that you shouldn't buy the fresh parsley three weeks before you make the stuffing, then you need more help than I can give you.  Likewise, the following list takes for granted that you already have basic things like salt and pepper in your kitchen.  And bowls and spoons.  If you don’t, call your mom, and ask her advice.  She’ll be thrilled. 

So print this out, start buying the stuff as soon as it's reasonable, and check things off as you go along. 

Connie Staccato's Thanksgiving Shopping List

Turkey - 16 to 18 lbs.  Order a fresh one at least two weeks ahead.  (To be honest, if it were up to me, I would just buy a multitude of turkey legs, wings, and thighs, and skip the whole carving routine.  I get pushback on this, though.)

Turkey gravy – 8 pkgs (for your leftovers; no, you are not going to serve this stuff on Thanksgiving)

Large foil roasting pans - 2
Medium size foil roasting pan
Small square roasting pans - 4

Cheap, nasty white bread - 3 large packages
Onions - 2 large
Celery - 1 bunch
Parsley - 1 bunch

Unbleached white flour
Canned pumpkin - 1 large (in case you didn't feel like cooking your own)
Chopped pecans - 1 large bag
Light corn syrup - 1 bottle
White sugar - 1 bag
Brown sugar - 1 package (you're not going to use much)

Baking potatoes - 8 (or more, if you're feeding an army)
Sweet potatoes - 3
Lemon - 1
Marshmallows - 1 bag

Baby lima beans, frozen - 1 large bag
Sweet corn, frozen - 1 large bag

Cranberries - 3 bags
Raspberries, frozen - 1 large bag

Whipping cream - 6 small cartons
Butter - 4 lbs
Half and half - enough for all the coffee

Booze - wine, whiskey, Galliano, whatever (I buy this last, or I'd drink it all)

I bought all my non-perishables last week.  Good thing, because I had oral surgery yesterday.  After that I was flat on my back all day, cursing the saints and the woman who gave birth to my periodontist, and today my right jaw is swollen up to the size of a grapefruit.  Which might cause people to wonder if my husband, Anthony, decked me, though people who know us wouldn't think that for a minute, because his face is still intact.

Oral surgery or no, I'm still on schedule.

And that's how it should be.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Cooking for a Holiday - Thanksgiving, Part III - The Menu

Just so you know what you cooked all that pumpkin for, here's the menu:

Connie Staccato's Thanksgiving Dinner

Roast Turkey
Nanna's Stuffing
Gravy (for the bird, not what the Napolitani mean by gravy)
Mashed Potatoes
Candied Sweet Potatoes
Cranberry Sauce
Pumpkin Pie
Pecan Pie
Whipped Cream 
Sambuca, Galliano, Amaretto, etc.

That's what we're having.  You can do whatever you want.  Shopping lists and recipes will be provided.  I don't do appetizers, because people usually want to bring stuff and that's a good thing for them to bring.  I don't have the patience for appetizers, and Lord knows with all this food you don't really need one, although my son, Nino, once made this really nice stuff with figs and goat's cheese and honey that I wouldn't mind if he made again.  But usually the anchovy-stuffed olive from my martini is enough for me.

Speaking of martinis:  I think it's only fair to warn you that, if you're the cook, you should save the drinking for later.  Maybe a little wine, but that's it.  

Vodka doesn't mix well with knives.  Especially if you're Sicilian.  My husband, Anthony, stabbed me in the leg with a carving knife last Thanksgiving and he wasn't even drinking!  True story.  It was an accident.

So he said.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Cooking for a Holiday - Thanksgiving, Part II - Get Set

In the United States of America, Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of November.  If that's confusing, take heart in knowing that someday Thanksgiving will be moved to a convenient nearby Monday, to take the mystery out of whether your stoonahd of a boss is going to let you have a four-day weekend or not. 

I'm not insulting your intelligence when I tell you this.  You obviously can read.  But I’m not taking any chances.  Not once, in the 34 years of my marriage, has a year gone by that I don't have to tell my husband, Anthony, when Thanksgiving is.  And he always acts surprised. 

Anyway, Thanksgiving will be here in just a little more than four weeks.  I start cooking today.

"But Connie," you might ask, "what kind of an idiot starts cooking Thanksgiving dinner four weeks ahead of time?"

This kind of idiot.  Right here.  In fact, I recommend getting started on your first day off after Halloween.  Every year.  It's psychologically important.  I always feel like I'm getting a jump on the holidays, instead of letting them sneak up on me.  It keeps the panic to a minimum.

Look, it's a BIG freaking meal.  I got enough agita.  And I'm busy, because Christmas is coming, too.  You gotta take it slow.  One small (but brilliant) step at a time.  The whole point of "Connie Staccato Stuffs a Turkey" is to learn how to do holidays with as little grief as possible.  Because, you know, you might actually want to enjoy them.

So that means we've got to start now.  Trust me.  Remember those pumpkins I told you to buy?  

Go get them.

First, wash them in the sink.  Just to keep dirt from flying around in your oven.  I don't know if dirt does that, but just in case.  Pat the pumpkins dry.  And roll up your sleeves.

You're going to need a big cutting board, a couple of your biggest baking pans, and a BIG-ass pointy knife.  Lay the pumpkin on its side and cut it in half, width-wise, along the equator.  This is the hard part, and the first cut is the hardest (just sort of stab it, but carefully).  Then slowly work your way around.  It kind of breaks in two after a while.  Now, scrape the innards out of the pumpkin halves.  If you've got kids, or a husband whose got nothing better to do, they can separate the seeds out of the slimy stuff and you can toast them in the oven with a little salt.  I'm not doing that this year, since the kids are grown and not around, Anthony wants to watch the game, and my hips don't need pumpkin seeds. 

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.  Line your baking pans with foil and spray the foil with some non-stick stuff.  (If you want to skip the foil and be "green", go for it.  But don't say I didn't warn you.)

Put your pumpkin shells, skin-side-up, on the baking pans (if they don't fit, cut them into smaller pieces, but they should fit).  Put the shells in the oven and cook the shit out of them.  About 2 hours, or even more.  They're done when they feel real soft when you stick a fork in, and they collapse.  

Take the pumpkin out of the oven and set aside to cool.

It's cool?  We're in the home stretch.

Get the largest bowl in your kitchen and a big metal spoon.  Scrape the cooked pumpkin away from the skin, into the bowl.  Scrape it good, you should only have a thin, floppy skin left (throw that away).  Now take a potato masher and smash the living daylights out of it, fishing out any pieces of pumpkin skin that might be lurking in there.  I mean really smash it.  Take your time.  Get it as smooth as possible.  This is good exercise and good therapy.  Sure, you could use a blender or a food processor but, personally, I like to smash things. 

Last step:

Get a bunch of little containers, with lids.  Tupperware, Rubbermaid, Ziplock, the little plastic containers leftover from the olive salad at the deli counter, whatever.  Measure out two cups of pumpkin into each container and put them in the freezer.  Pumpkin freezes really well.  Most recipes (a pie for Thanksgiving, for instance) use two cups of pumpkin, so one-and-done.  You've got some treats to look forward to.

This year I got 11 cups of pumpkin for my efforts.  That made four containers of two cups each, and one container with three which I'll use for soup.

And, damn, am I proud of myself.  I've got this.

A word of warning:  home-cooked fresh pumpkin looks a lot different from the stuff in the cans (it's gold, not orange) and your Thanksgiving pie will have a different texture, lighter and less dense (in other words, perfetto).  If you've got some people in your family who are absolutely addicted to the recipe on the back of the can of Libby's (the one with the condensed milk), you're going to get some push-back.

That's fine.  They can go do Thanksgiving at McDonald's.