Saturday, November 28, 2009

- Good news, bad news: Thanksgiving leftovers

The bad news was that I couldn’t find Pepperidge Farm white bread for turkey sandwiches. The good news was that Paul scored some at the Central Market.  But there was more bad news: it didn’t taste quite right. Was it because Pepperidge Farm changed their recipe or is this one tradition that we've simply outgrown?  No matter, there was good news in the end: muffins.

These particular muffins have made guest appearances with smoked turkey in the past, so leftover Thanksgiving turkey seemed like a good fit. I whipped up a batch for lunch and we paired the resulting sandwiches with some Fat Tire ale … a wicked brew that can be found just about anywhere in Texas as well as selected Outer Banks groceries, and which, to my unsophisticated palate, insists on reminding me of egg creams from yesteryear. For those of you who have not experienced a true New York style egg cream, there is neither egg nor cream to be had ... rather, chocolate milk charged with hyper-carbonated seltzer water. Maybe the malt in the Fat Tire echoes some subtle note in Bosco chocolate syrup. No matter. It tastes extremely good.

And so it was that Don was asked, yet again, to delay a perfectly good meal in the service of the photographic muse, the better to portray what we enjoyed after our two mile walk through Woodcreek. If you are looking for a way to dispatch your leftover turkey, you might want to give this a try.

Apple Onion Walnut Muffins (makes six, doubles with ease)

2 Tbs. melted butter
1 egg
½ cup milk
¾ cup flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. kosher salt
1 small Granny Smith apple, shredded
1 small sweet onion, similarly shredded
1 handful of walnut pieces (¼ - ½ cup)

Whisk eggs and milk together.  Add melted butter.  Fold in the remaining ingredients, being careful not to overmix, which makes for tough muffins.  Put in six greased muffin tins (I use Baker’s Joy) and bake at 425 for 12-15 minutes.

And if you want to gild the lily, whip up some cranberry jelly, too.

Cranberry Jelly

12 ounces fresh cranberries
1 ½ cup water
1 ½ cup sugar

Simmer cranberries and water for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid scorched berries. Press cooked berries through a strainer to remove seeds and skins, and return to the pan with sugar. Cook another 3-5 minutes. Refrigerate until set.

Friday, November 27, 2009

- A Noah’s Ark Thanksgiving

We had two of everything for Thanksgiving yesterday: a fried turkey and a roasted turkey, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, plain stuffing and sausage onion stuffing, smooth cranberry jelly and chunky cranberry orange relish, green olives and black olives, carrots and celery, red wine and champagne … along with matched sides of Levine family green bean casserole and buttered corn versus Ackert family creamed onions and sautéed turnips.  Dessert would have continued the two-by-two theme with coconut cream pie and pecan pie, but Kristen and her family saved the day from cliché by arriving with a chocolate frosted cheese cake.

It’s a good thing we decided up front to eliminate pumpkin pie and apple pie from the menu, as dinner was so good that there wasn’t much room left for sampling all the desserts. However, pumpkin did make a pre-dinner appearance in a “new for this year” brunch pairing of pumpkin rolls with, you guessed it, two fillings. One was a straight take on an Ina Garten recipe I caught on the Food Network the other night, but the second was a riff on strawberry trifle, as odd as that might sound.

So see for yourself. Snag the original Pumpkin Roulade recipe from the Food Network, cut the pumpkin cake in half after it’s cooled and fill one side with a half recipe of the mascarpone filling. Then whip up a trifling half. It won’t be as pretty, but in my book it wins the prize for taste.

Trifling Pumpkin Roll

½ Ina Garten pumpkin roulade cake
1 small box Jell-O Vanilla Cook and Serve pudding (not instant!)
1 ½ cups milk (whole milk is best, but 2% will do)
½ cup whipping cream
½ cup toasted chopped hazelnuts (filberts)
Sherry or Vin Santo

Cook the pudding mix and milk in the microwave until thickened. Place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on top of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming as it cools. Whip ½ cup cream (don’t add any sugar), and fold into the chilled pudding.

Chop the hazelnuts and then toast them for 3-6 minutes in a 350 oven until they are nicely browned. Cool.

Spritz the pumpkin roll with sherry (I stick my thumb into the bottle opening to control the flow). Slather the cake with a layer of the pudding/cream mixture. Sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts. Roll carefully and expect it to sag, as the cream filling is not as firm as the mascarpone version.

Conduct your own taste test and may the best cake win ;-)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

- Urban Impression: Austin

Even though I’ve always said that I wouldn’t want to live in a city, Don and I agreed to spend the week at Meg and Paul’s condo in south Austin while they soak up some sun on the Mexican coast. They think we’re here to take care of Katie, their Jack Russell Terrier whose recent brush with glaucoma left her with one eye and a perpetually saucy wink. But the truth is we’re having a blast living the vida urbana, if only for a little while.

Yesterday we headed to the Sunset Valley Farmers Market, one of several locavore haunts in Austin. Fresh arugula, cucumber, tomatoes, and onions made their way into my mesh bag, while we made note of the turnips, pecans, and sweet potatoes that we’ll return for next week in anticipation of Thanksgiving. While there, we sampled some maple-flavored “Dad’s Granola,” which was good, but not better than our Garrison Trail granola blend.  We really should go into the Wholey Granoley biz one of these days. And I actually managed to avoid the kettle corn stand, although hunger pangs ultimately drove us to stop at Chuy’s (pronounced chewies) for lunch … a good thing, as it resulted in a mental note to add grilled corn to my tortilla soup recipe.

Wanting to sample the joys of urban exercise, we headed to Zilker Park, which has recovered from last month’s ACL mud bath, the Dillo Dirt now back under the turf where it belongs. As we drove into the park, a lone guitarist stood far out in the middle of a grassy field, playing to the sun. We picked a parking lot close to Lady Bird Lake and stepped out to join the flow of humanity that was walking, running, and riding by.

Austin has an abundance of hiking trails that appear to be in constant use by a staggering number of people. Averaging about ten feet across, we found the Zilker Park trails to be simple, hard-packed earth with the occasional paved section. Slower walkers-and-talkers stayed to the right, the better to be passed on the left by power walkers, joggers, runners, and cyclists. This was people watching at its finest, with every age, color, and body-type imaginable, some more amply represented than others.

There were parents pushing jogging strollers occupied by children who mostly looked perplexed, pregnant moms-to-be taking their soon-to-be newborns for a virtual walk, rock-hard running fanatics gliding effortlessly by, and less-fit wannabes trudging on with expressions of grim determination. Many were scantily attired and/or shirtless, revealing flesh moving in ways most strange. Many more were branded, some with tattoos, others with t-shirts. Burnt orange longhorns held sway, although a Duke blue devil tee did make a surprise appearance. At one point, three women strolled by in skirts, clutching handbags and looking totally incongruous. And if the constant stream of cyclists flew by too quickly to make any impression, the slow, deliberate passage of the halt and the lame imbued them with a touching aura of grace.

Then there were the dogs, every bit as diverse as their owners, from a black teacup poodle to a show quality St. Bernard. A few were muzzled and all were leashed as they scurried, limped, and trotted along, some making their own sartorial statements --a black chow with a yellow Cub Scout neckerchief, a tongue-lolling German shepherd with a peace sign bandana-- and a surprising number sporting bags of poo dangling from their leashes.

Indeed the trails were remarkably clean, with virtually no waste to step over; the only litter a soft shoulder of fallen leaves that cushioned our steps while the overhanging branches sheltered us from the strong sun. Water fountains and trash barrels made discrete appearances at regular intervals, as did benches placed at strategic overlooks, the better to watch the kayaks, canoes, and rowing shells that plied the waters below. And in one spot where the trail dropped down to the water’s edge, families and ducks concentrated on the age-old delight of feeding and being fed.

Returning to Zilker this morning, the trail was every bit as fascinating. I avoided the previous day’s digital edema by grabbing two small, flat stones at the outset of our walk, keeping my fingers curled around the cool limestone cradled in each palm. And one fleeting hour later, reluctantly exiting from the stream of humanity, I spotted a tow-headed tot riding high on his father’s shoulders. Our eyes locked, and as we passed our heads turned to hold the gaze, both of us grinning from ear to ear.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

- Prodigal: A riff on Texas

They say there are no seasons in Texas, but my senses tell me otherwise. In the weeks since I last wrote, smudges of gold have appeared in the trees along the creeks and King Ranch bluestem has bronzed the roadsides.  Though there are no sugar maples to paint the hills red, autumn has surely arrived.

Our days have been full, and like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights, my mind has been frozen with indecision. Should I write about the River Walk in San Antonio, the biker rally we stumbled onto in Galveston, the Wings over Houston air show we went to that same weekend, or the pottery festival in Gruene? How could we have been so thoughtless as to eat the chicken pot pie and the latest pasta concoction before taking pictures for the blog? When will I ever find time to make paper, create new recipes, and write now that I’m working full-time?

Oh yes. I have rejoined the world of the gainfully employed, leaving at 7:00 each morning for the Alkek Library at Texas State University in San Marcos. The drive is a marvel, the ground cloaked in swaths of early morning fog as the sun gilds the edges of the hills. My mind is filled each day with the esoteric details of government documents, then I return home just as the sun slips back behind the hills, the GPS flickering into night mode.

Weekend time has regained its urgency, with never enough of it to spend on all the wish lists and projects. But today, as I threaded through the crowded aisles at the Brookshire Brothers grocery store, I spotted apple cider and knew that time had to be found for an unscheduled project. So I made an extra stop at Ace Hardware and bought a new deep fryer. Tomorrow, I’ll be sure to take a picture.

Doughnuts (2 dozen)
3 Tbs. softened butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
4 cups flour (sifted)
1 tsp. nutmeg
4 tsp. baking powder
1 cup milk

Makes very soft dough which can be hard to handle, but the end result is worth it. Roll dough ½” thick, cut into rings and holes (I've used a small drinking glass and a little bud vase since losing my doughnut cutter some years back).  Heat deep fryer to 350 degrees. Flip doughnuts when the tops crackle and remove when both sides are dark brown. Drain on brown paper bags and cool briefly. Coat the doughnuts with cinnamon sugar (3/4 cup sugar, 1 Tbs. cinnamon) by shaking them in doubled brown paper lunch bags. Serve with cold apple cider.

P.S. As an afterthought, I tried putting some ganache on the last batch of doughnuts this morning ... nuked a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream for 30 seconds, stirred in 1/4 cup of Ghirardelli 60% Cacao chips and dunked the doughnuts.  Suffice it to say that this most assuredly will not be an afterthought next time.